Death and Rumors

By David Baumann

Reading from Acts, 21:15-26

15 After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. 16Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.
17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. 25But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgement that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.


Today’s lesson is a fitting follow-up to the passage from James we read last Sunday, about the searing damage done by the tongue. Christian leaders in Jerusalem welcome Paul and rejoice when he recounts God’s successes among the Gentiles. Then they tell Paul about the “thousands of believers among the Jews” who are “zealous for the law,” and who have been lied to regarding Paul’s teaching about circumcision. They have been told about you… A report of gossip. This is how Paul’s time in Jerusalem begins.

The power of gossip to do harm cannot be underestimated. For gossip to be effective, it must be originated by people willing to betray others, but with no courage to come out of the shadows; then it must be believed by those who hear it (often with relish), and passed on. At the time of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem, “thousands” have believed gossip and passed on a lie. We can never know who started the rumor (though Christian Jewish believers vehemently opposed Paul in Galatia and Antioch, and never let up), but whatever the source, this gossip would bring about the violent assault on Paul in the temple, his arrest, his two-year confinement in Judea, his being sent to Rome in chains, and eventually his martyrdom. Gossip would kill that generation’s best apostle.

How very easy it is for believers of that time, of every time, to receive and pass on gossip that is titillating, encourages smug self-righteousness, creates a bogus sub-community of “those who know,” and smears another person who is, of course, absent and undefended. Gossip deserves zero tolerance. It is damnable. Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44), but Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6). Can it be clearer than that?

David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 45 years, 39 of them in the Diocese of Los Angeles. He now serves as part-time priest in southern Illinois. He has published devotions, articles, and essays, as well as science fiction novels and short stories.

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