Monday, July 16, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts 25:13-26:1

The verses we looked at last time reminded me that when God says something will happen, we don't have to wonder if it will or not.

Even so, the wheels weren't turning too quickly for Paul. He had plenty of time cooling his heels under house arrest while Festus entertained the young Jewish king, Agrippa (son of the Herod Agrippa who died in Acts chapter 12) and his sister, Bernice. Although the Sanhedrin were the religious leaders of Israel, they still answered to a national king of their own (who himself answered to Rome). And it was common for fellow rulers to visit each other when someone took office.

Festus took the opportunity to explain the situation to Agrippa and get his input, since he was having trouble figuring out exactly how to present this case in writing to Caesar. After hearing some of the details, Agrippa decided that he would like to hear Paul himself, which he did the next day. (25:13-22)

Festus held a formal gathering, though not a trial, for the Jewish King Agrippa to hear Paul's case first-hand.

Jewish kings at this time controlled the temple treasury and could even appoint a high priest. Agrippa would have had a thorough understanding of both Jewish and Roman culture and law. So he was ideal as an advisor to Festus in this case. Festus hoped that by the end of it all, Agrippa would be able to help him clarify exactly what the charges against Paul were that Caesar was to make a judgment on. (25:23-27)

Rather than launch into a complete look at Paul's defense this time, I want to save that for next week and focus briefly on a small detail that caught my attention and ended up speaking very strongly to me.

Paul stretches out his hand as he begins his defense, a common rhetorical gesture of his time and culture. One small example of the way Paul endeavored to speak to people in ways that were the most meaningful to them. Once again, Paul brings all of his strengths and sensitivites to the table as he presents his case. He is not simply spouting off about what he believes. Nor is he watering down his beliefs to avoid offending others. He is communicating in a way that is truthful, respectful and that takes into account the way his listeners think. (v.1)

We see it again in verse 14 when Paul mentions a Greek expression Jesus used when speaking to him, (which wasn't mentioned in previous accounts of this story but would be relevant to Paul's Roman audience here). We also see it in the general apologetic tone of his defense, which focuses on logic and reason, elements valued by ancient Roman courts even more than reliable witness testimony.

These aspects of Paul's speaking here shouldn't be overlooked. Many of us geeks are very used to living in our own worlds, absorbed in our own thoughts rather than considering how others may view things. One of my guilty pleasures is to see what kinds of reactions I can get by not conforming to normal expectations and even being a little unexpectedly "weird" just to see what kinds of strange looks I can get. And there's nothing wrong with letting your geek flag fly now and then. But I have to ask myself how often I try to meet people closer to where they're coming from.

Even if it means doing things that are brain-numbingly mundane now and then (like the game of Rummy I played at a game night a few months ago, despite the awesome stack of zombie-killing, orc-slaying, alien-blasting board games I brought along for the night), taking time to consider where others are coming from, how they think about things, can mean the difference between real, meaningful, helpful relationships, and brief and pointless interactions that serve only our momentary interests. Paul was a master of "meeting people where they were at", and we can learn a lot from his example.

My wife heard the expression once, "be interestED, not interestING", and it's one that I've found to be challenging and helpful as I learn to connect with others better.

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