By David Baumann
Reading from Acts 21:27-36
27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, 28shouting, “Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. 34Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”
Today’s lesson recounts how the anticipated violence against Paul begins. It is a Roman tribune whose soldiers rescue him from the murderous rage of Paul’s fellow Jews. The crowd keeps shouting, “Away with him!” It is eerily reminiscent of another crowd that shouted, “Crucify him!” to Roman authorities.
This all occurs during seven days when Paul is intent upon the Jewish purification ceremonies with the four men under vows, a role he has accepted, as a public sign that he himself “observes and guards the law” (from yesterday’s lesson), and to make peace in the Church. During these seven days of humble service to those he leads, although the opposition against him has not yet shown itself, Paul must be mindful of the several prophecies that in Jerusalem “imprisonment and persecutions” await him. Similarly, Jesus predicted to the apostles that he himself would be betrayed, turned over to Gentiles, and put to death. We do not know what Paul is thinking during these seven days, but we do know that he said to the elders in Ephesus, “I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
We will see that even in what was ahead, Paul would testify about Jesus to his rage-driven, hate-filled countrymen, to the Romans, to Jewish authorities, and to anyone who would listen. He would later urge Timothy, “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Whenever the gospel is authentically preached, people will be converted and find godly joy; and rage and hatred will also arise.
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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