Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Paul Before Festus

 6 After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. 7 When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. 8 Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:5-12 (ESV)
Festus is active. Within a day of coming to Caesarea he makes good on his promise and has Paul tried before him. The Jews make their accusations, but Paul makes a good defense so that Festus can’t convict him. But Festus still wants to buy himself some privilege with the Jews so he asks if Paul doesn’t want to go with them and be tried by them. The Jews would still be able to convict him and sentence him to death if he is found to have broken their laws. And Paul would rather not give in to their kangaroo court.  He appeals to Caesar. This Festus finds to be the best answer to the whole question. It gets Paul out of his hair, and he is able to send Paul far away where he won’t be killed the minute he is released from prison. He doesn’t have to take responsibility for releasing him either. He can just tell the Jews it is now out of his hands. Paul for his part gets a free trip to Rome.
Turn the other cheek. These are the words of Christ. They are meant to convey that a person shouldn’t be too quick to desire revenge, but that it is good to forgive, to return an insult with love. But if one were to take it to the extreme, as many Christians do, then it would mean that what Paul is doing here is wrong. Paul actually defends himself, he makes a defense and he does not let injustice rule.

This is sort of the problem in our Biblically illiterate society today that is still very much influenced by the Bible. It’s true. Even Atheists are more influenced by the Bible than they know or will ever recognize. Things like freedom of speech, tolerance, even the live and let live attitude of modern western society can trace its roots back to the teachings of the Bible. The Bible allows for slavery, and yet without the Bible slavery would never have been outlawed. Christianity has changed western civilization from what it would be if it only had the likes of Cicero, and Aristotle. The religions of ancient Rome did not preach “peace, love, and happiness.” But today, people aren’t familiar with the Bible. There are pastors who have never actually read the whole thing themselves. So the effect is that people take this part, and it says x. But they never see how far it was meant to be taken, or how the people entrusted with delivering these words themselves were to take it. Scripture interprets scripture is the bedrock of Lutheran Biblical interpretation. This is true of its law also. We understand for instance that the first commandment doesn’t prohibit religious art, because God also lays out with in the same book that his commands against graven images are given, that the temple is to be decorated with the images of all sorts of animals, plants and even the heavenly images of Cherubim. So it is that even though Paul speaks against using the justice system unjustly to oppress the poor with lawsuits, and that Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, this is not to say that the courts are evil and that you can’t make use of them or defend yourself when attacked. In fact, doing this may be the only way that you can deliver justice to the poor in this world. Though, Jesus himself delivered righteousness by remaining silent through the whole trial. 

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