The cat among the pigeons- Thursday, 7th Week of Easter- Acts 22:30; 23:6-11
Paul arrives in Jerusalem to be convinced by James to show some sort of token appreciation for the Jewish Law. A number of Jews in Jerusalem had become Christians yet they continued to follow the Mosaic Law and look upon Paul as one who has betrayed the Jewish Law and people by making concessions for the Gentiles who embraced Christ without first embracing the Jewish law and customs.
Relenting to what seems to be a minor rite of purification (shaving one’s head), Paul enters the temple to offer sacrifice. Unfortunately the Jews from Asia, who had never seen eye to eye with Paul on his missionary journeys, now spot him in the temple accusing him of teaching against the law. But to fuel this fire they falsely accuse him of bringing Greeks into the inner court of the temple, a crime punishable by death.
A riot breaks out and Paul’s life is only spared by the arrival of the tribune and a Roman cohort. Paul is bound in chains and taken to barracks only to be followed by an enraged mob of Jews baying for his blood in words that similarly condemned Jesus. The tribune too mistakes Paul for an Egyptian who had recently stirred up a revolt, leading four thousand assassins into the wilderness.
So Paul reveals his identity; He is a Jew from Tarsus (notice he reveals his Roman citizenship much later, like a trump card pulled out of a pack). Paul asks to address the Jews for even now he wants them to be won over for the sake of Christ. Having been permitted to address the mob he testifies publically to his past and present, telling them of his conversion and how he was sent to the Gentiles to evangelize. But the very word Gentile was enough to trigger the Jews, like a stone to a hive; they rush out buzzing mad with not just with the intention to sting Paul but to kill him.
The tribune had Paul tied with thongs and ordered to be examined by flogging for there seemed to be no other way to determine what the truth was with so many contradicting each other. The tribunal sought the easy way out, scourge the truth out of Paul. Paul now throws a spanner in the works when he reveals to his intended torturers that he is a Roman citizen and that too by birth unlike the tribune who had to pay a handsome amount to purchase his citizenship.
The tribune is at a loss for words but even more terrified for he has broken the law by having a Roman citizen bound. It definitely was not legal to examine a Roman citizen by scourging. The Valerian and Porcian laws clearly established the illegality of such an act, and any Roman officer who transgressed this exemption would himself be guilty of a serious breach of law.
Spared once more, Paul is once again brought before the chief priests and the entire council to present his case against his accusers. The text of today examines this trial which seemed to have its verdict made up even before the first arguments were heard. Paul thus pulls another rabbit from the hat. Observing that the council consisted of Sadducees and Pharisees whom he knew lived with differences, he declares himself to be a Pharisee and states that his trial is denominationally motivated over the belief of the resurrection of the dead .
At this the council is split, for the Sadducees did not accept the resurrection or angels or spirits while the Pharisees accepted all three. Battle lines now drawn, Paul has skilfully set the cat among the pigeons with the Pharisees reversing their decision in favour of Paul.
So fierce is the dissension that Paul is whisked away to the barracks for the tribunal fears that he might be torn into pieces by the mob. In all this chaos Paul is able to encounter the presence of the Lord standing by him, encouraging him to be courageous for he is to testify for the Lord in Rome as he did in Jerusalem.
From now on and for the next two years, Paul will continue to live as a prisoner. He will be brought before a number of authorities at the bidding of a blood thirsty brood of Jews who have gone for the jugular. Yet Paul will continue his mission of making Christ known.
Fr Warne D’Souza