Monday, August 27, 2007

Acts 26:1-23

As we have seen in previous readings, Paul had been taken into custody by Roman authorities because of a disturbance and complaint generated by a number of Jews in Jerusalem. Thus began a long episode for Paul of being under arrest in Judea and eventually in Rome. During this, he appeared a number of times before religious, military, and political authorities. Today’s reading recounts one appearance before such a group, including King Agrippa II, the last in the decades-long line of Herodian rulers in that region.

Paul stood accused by his opponents of scandalizing Judaism and disturbing the peace by proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, as Savior and Lord. They wanted to punish and even eliminate Paul. They also realized that his proclamation and the commotion it aroused potentially threatened Roman rule and order in Judea. Hence, if they could not punish or kill Paul themselves, let the Romans exert their authority and power against him! In this context, the Roman governor, Festus, wanted to know more precisely the grounds of accusation. Agrippa, Jewish himself though collaborating with the Romans to rule, could help Festus understand Paul’s proclamation in relation to the charges against him. So Agrippa, in company with Festus and many other officials, summoned Paul to defend himself.

What did Paul say? Paul told the story of Jesus in his life. He told how he had grown up a devout Jew, seeking to love and serve God as well as he could. He had longed for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel to send a special person to free people and lead them in true worship and right life. Scandalized that followers of Jesus claimed this crucified man was God’s special person, Paul had vehemently opposed Jesus and his movement.

But it turned out Jesus did not stay dead after being crucified – as Paul and everybody else would have expected. God raised Jesus from the dead, thus validating that Jesus is God’s appointed agent to free us from sin, to give us new and right life. The resurrected Jesus, in all his glory, confronted and transformed Paul on the road to Damascus. From enemy of Jesus to devoted follower and witness, Paul became a radically new person! This is the good news Paul rejoiced in and shared wherever and whenever he could – including with Agrippa and Festus while he was in custody!

What would we say if asked to explain our belief in Jesus? Would we tell of how the living Jesus transformed us? Would we, confident and trusting in the Spirit, be willing and able to tell the story of Jesus in our life and in the Church? Today’s reading from Acts challenges us to ask whether we truly know Jesus intimately and powerfully, whether we have a story to tell others of God’s good news for us and in us, changing us in Jesus into radically new people, from beginning to end. May this be so!

Gregory Strong

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