Paul’s ordeal in Jerusalem is temporarily brought to a halt. He has cleverly argued his case as a Roman citizen and a Pharisee, thus preventing the tribunal from executing a punishment that would be illegally imposed on a Roman citizen at the same time dividing the Jews by declaring his sectarian orientation; he is a Pharisees.
The Jews, not to be outdone, swear an oath to neither eat nor drink till they kill Paul and so they hatch their plan with the help of the chief priests and elders. On the pretext of further examining Paul in the presence of the tribunal, it was decided that forty men would assassinate Paul.
Paul’s nephew gets wind of the conspiracy and takes it to Paul who alerts Lysias, the tribunal. Sensing that this was now clearly out of his control and in order to protect Paul, the tribunal sends 470 armed soldiers at night to accompany Paul to Caesarea to be handed over to Felix the governor, so that a fair trial may be conducted.
Five days after the arrival of Paul in Caesarea the Jews arrive to present their case, this time armed with a lawyer by the name of Tertulus, who with his tongue dripping of honey in praise of Felix the governor, then begins to make his true agenda known and spins every charge from accusing Paul of being an agitator to the ringleader of the sect called Nazarenes.
Tertulus seems like a bull in a china shop, stomping and storming about with trumped up charges. Paul chooses to take the calmer and composed approach even though his life is at stake. His defence is factual rather than emotional, leaving the governor with no other choice to examine the facts and wait for the witnesses to be called in from Jerusalem; in particular the tribunal, Lysias. Paul is now placed under house arrest with access to friends.
For some reason Paul is kept under house arrest for two years without trial till a new governor Festus was appointed who like his predecessor was petitioned on Paul’s case the minute he arrived on his maiden visit to Jerusalem. Like Felix, Festus chooses to hold the trial in Caesarea and not give in to the demands of the Jews to have a trial in Jerusalem. Paul who by now longed to continue on his mission of evangelization and realizing the futility of this exercise, appeals to have his matter transferred to the Imperial court in Rome, a right he exercises as a citizen.
The reading for today, which is a jump of almost two chapters since yesterday, focuses on a meeting between Agrippa the king and Festus the governor. Agrippa and his wife Bernice have come to Caesarea to pay a courtesy visit to the new Roman governor and Festus who is rather perplexed with the stand of the Jews on what is most apparently a case of personal vendetta, chooses to discuss the same with Agrippa, hoping to get a better understanding of the situation.
The text of today lays bare the innocence of Paul in the mind of Festus. He clearly saw that the charges made by the Jews in Jerusalem against Paul were unsubstantial and false as compared to the charges brought against Paul in Caesarea. This for him was merely a religious matter and not one that warranted state interference.
The lectionary almost seems to be in haste to end the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles in order to coincide its closing with the day of Pentecost, a day when the curtain falls on the Easter season. Tomorrow we will jump two chapters again to meet in chapter 28; this time in Rome.
In the meanwhile we will learn that Agrippa too finds no claim in the charges brought against Paul who once again presents his case passionately. But since Paul has appealed his case to Rome, Paul is sent to Rome
Fr. Warner D'Souza is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay. He has served in the parishes of St Michael's, Mahim, St Paul's, Dadar East, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bandra and at present is the priest in charge of St Jude Church, Malad East. He is also the Director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum and is the co-ordinator of the Committee for the Promotion and Preservation of the Artistic and Historic Patrimony of the Church.