Today’s Reading: Acts 23-25
Today’s Reflection: Acts 23:6-10
6) Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7) And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8) For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9) Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10) And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.
Interesting story. After returning to Jerusalem, a journey Paul knew would be his last, it isn’t long before Jews opposed to the Gospel of Christ overhear him preaching and have him arrested. But while he is on trial, Paul recognizes the dueling factions of Judaism involved in his arrest: Saducees who did not belive in resurrection from the dead or spiritual beings, and Pharisees and their Scribes who believed in both. In a ‘wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove’ manouver, Paul raises the issue of resurrection, and in a flash the Jews go from arguing against him to fighting with each other. Isn’t it ironic that because Paul aligned his belief in ressurection to his having been raised as a Pharisee, the Pharisees who had long sought Paul’s death now even end up defending him?
It’s a funny story, and a deadly serious one at the same time. How did Paul so easily shift the focus from himself to a conflict between the two Jewish religious philosophies? Because Paul discerned (probably both through the Holy Spirit, and by personal experience) what the agenda of the Jewish spritual leaders who opposed the Gospel really was. They all wanted their doctrine to stand. They wanted to be right. And because the Gospel of Christ turned much of the current understanding of the Pharisees, Scribes and Saducees upside down and inside out, it was a threat that had to be wiped out (after which they would return to trying to wipe each other out). This was in spite the evidence of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It was even in spite of Jesus’ obvious power and authority, both of which He had passed on to His apostles and disciples. The Pharisees, Scribes and Saducees couldn’t be bothered to find out of Jesus teaching was really the way to righteousness; they were too busy trying to prove they were right.
The Pharisees, Scribes and Saducees didn’t see their worth as coming from God’s love for them, or His leading in their lives. They saw their worth coming from the rightness of their doctrine, the understanding they had themselves developed and which they believed would secure them eternal life. They would do anything to defend this ‘right’-ness, even if it meant committing sins (like plotting the deaths of Jesus, and now of Paul). And this is the danger. When your focus is on proving you are right, everything else falls to the wayside. Love. Grace. Peace. Friendship. Mercy. Charity. Most of all, righteousness. And since it is much easier to look right than to actually be right, most of their focus was on the appearances of things and judging others on the basis of those appearances.
Unfortunately rightness is too shallow to build a firm foundation on (which is why Pharisees who were calling for Paul’s death one minute were defending him the next). So Jesus gives us something much stronger to build on: Himself.
Matthew 7:24-27 – 24) “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25) And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26) And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27) And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
His truth is unmoveable and once rooted in it we’re much less concerned with proving how right we are. We won’t be offended or angered by those who disagree with our beliefs and can continue to treat them patiently and lovingly. Most importantly, we can focus on living out the Gospel truth in our daily lives.