Was Paul deliberately and actively antagonistic toward Jewish and Roman authority? Nothing in Acts or his surviving writings would indict and convict him as such. Yet there he was, as we read in today’s passage from Acts, accused and hauled before Jewish and Roman authority as a problem to both. From this situation, Paul eventually ended up a prisoner in Rome and then a martyr. How did he get himself into all of this if, as would seem the case, he was not deliberately and actively antagonistic?
The answer appears to be that Paul – like others who also witnessed, suffered, and died in those early decades of the church – loved, served, and proclaimed Jesus as Lord without equivocation or compromise. To the Jewish authorities, this offended their view of God, and it threatened the “peace” of their political compromise with Rome in its occupation of Palestine. To the Roman authorities, this countered the empire’s foundation on and assertion of Caesar as Lord, both political and religious. The empire would not allow it. Hence without even going out of his way to incite trouble, Paul, by his mere assertion of and steadfast fidelity to the lordship of Jesus, unnerved both Jerusalem and Rome.
Do we love, serve, and proclaim Jesus as Lord without equivocation or compromise? What does this even mean to us? We do not live in ancient Jerusalem or Rome, yet we do live in social and political contexts where authorities and powers attempt to claim our identity and allegiance – to tell us who we are, what we should think and say, and how we should live. That Jesus is Lord means, in contradistinction, that no one and nothing else can rightly claim to be the highest and ultimate authority and power for our lives and our world. Jesus is Lord: not any other person or system of authority and power.
Today some followers of Jesus live in countries where relative ease exists between the Church and society. Other followers live in countries where relative tension and worse exist. In either situation, followers of Jesus must grow ever deeper, truer, and firmer in loving, serving, and proclaiming Jesus as Lord in all aspects of their lives. This may mean potential or actual tension with worldly authority and power. But with Paul and countless others throughout the Church, we must confess and live Jesus as Lord whether in peace or in suffering. In either case, we can take courage as we do, for the Lord stands beside us as he stood beside Paul, to love and strengthen us in life and witness.