Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Things That Make For Peace

24:1 And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul. 2 And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:
“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. 4 But, to detain [1] you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. 5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. [2] 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”
 9 The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so. (Acts 24:1-9 (ESV)
Tertullus, the rhetorician, was a crafty man in arguing the case before Paul. You can see why they brought him along to speak for them. Luke is obviously summarizing the points that Tertullus made, but his speech would not have been endearing to the larger part of the Jewish population. Perhaps, only from the view of a high priest could such praise be given to Felix, praise that is not shared by either Josephus or Tacitus, who says that Felix ruled in the manner fitting a slave.
Tacitus says this because actually Felix was born into slavery. Claudius the emperor had freed his brother and made him secretary of finance, and Felix was given a break. He rose up to the rank of governor. Slavery in the days of Rome was quite a different animal than it was in the American south. Though, I still think people try to make more of that than there really is. It wasn’t based on race, and it seems it was much more common for a slave in Rome to earn his or her freedom. But a slave was still subject to the master’s whims, and could be tortured mercilessly, even killed. The Old Testament allows for slavery, but does not command it, and yet tries to temper some of the abuses of that system so that a slave could go free if they were abused. The thing is though as in the case of Felix, suffering the inherent indignity of slavery puts one at a disadvantage when it comes to government. The abused often become the abusers. Being raised in the want of an impoverished family makes you susceptible to greed, bribes and so forth. But Felix worked to squash rebellions and the Sadducees who ruled in the Temple saw this as a good thing, as they typically looked at the Pharisees and other such sects in much the same way fundamentalists are viewed today. And all the more reason to oppress the poor. It wasn’t peace.
I wonder what it was like for Paul to hear the lies and half-truths spun from the mouth of Tertullus. Rioting and stirring up riots was a capital offense in Rome. And of course, Paul had been present and numerous riots, even in a manner the cause of such riots even as happened in the temple, or perhaps we would say the focus. He had not started any of these riots, and had that been so he would have long ago been dealt with by the Romans. He preached the gospel. That was all. He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ who died to forgive the sins of the world and rose from the dead. He never attacked the government, rather he admonished people to obey the government, to love their rulers and pray for them. But it was Jews who started the riots most often, though there was the issue of silversmiths in Ephesus. He didn’t stir up the Jews, rather it was the other way around. He himself loved his people profoundly as can be seen in every one of his epistles.

Jesus weeps for Jerusalem and wishes that they would know the things which  make for peace. It will not be so. The reforms of Felix so highly praised here by the accusers of Paul, will become the impetus for the later rebellions leading to the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and finally ending with the siege of Masada. Both Josephus and Tacitus will see this with the hindsight of an historian. “Peace, Peace” when there is no peace. “ Well this world will know its wars, and rumors of wars will flourish. Some of them have to be fought too. But there is a peace to be had amidst all this turmoil and tribulation, amidst the lies of our accusers and even the truths they tell. And this is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. The peace established by Jesus Christ who reconciled the whole world to him, who forgives our sins.

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