Monday, July 16Scripture Reading—Acts 21:27-39
This reading picks up from the readings in the daily lectionary from several weeks ago, following Paul on his journey to Jerusalem, and then onto Rome. It is essentially Paul’s last missionary journey. He arrives in Jerusalem and confers with James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and presumably Jesus’ brother. The leaders of the church there acknowledge Paul’s success among the Gentiles while also pointing out to him the stressful relations this success is creating with Jewish Christians. To make a long (and interesting) story sort, Paul falls into controversy when, trying to prove his respect for his own Jewish tradition and the feelings of Jewish Christians, he goes to the temple for a rite of purification with four other Christians of Jewish backgrounds. A group of Jews from Asia had previously seen Paul in town with Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus. They assumed, mistakenly, that Paul had done the unthinkable—he had taken a Gentile into the temple. The people were so angry that they wanted to kill Paul—and nearly did. This sets in motion a series of investigations, violent attacks, and eventually trials before the civil authorities—all because people assumed that Paul had desecrated sacred space by taking a Gentile inside. As you read through the rest of Acts, you will see that Paul denies the validity of the charges against him, but does not deny that he proclaims something his opponents also vehemently deny—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He uses this false accusation as a tactic to proclaim the truthful difference between him and those who disagree with him. This incident reminds us that though religion has great power to heal, save, liberate, motivate, and inspire, it also has great power to divide. It can lead to irrational, violent behavior that demonizes those who have differing beliefs or practices. At the core, I believe, of this dispute, was the struggle to understand whether God is God only of a few who share common ethnicity, heritage, and language, or whether God is a God of love whose offer of mercy extends to all people and makes our human distinctions null and void. It’s clear where Paul stood on this matter. And every day, we are given the opportunity to demonstrate by our words and deeds the nature of the God we give our loyalty and allegiance to.
Thought for the day: The offense of the gospel is not just that we are saved by grace rather than works; but that all of us are equally worthy to be counted as children of God.
Prayer: O God, frequently remind us that your love and mercy is freely given to any who will receive it. Amen.