Archive for December 19th, 2007

The Saddest Day

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Today’s Scripture: Acts 21:17-26 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Tyler Connoley):

This is one of the saddest passages in the New Testament. That may seem over-dramatic if you haven’t read what comes next. However, I believe this is the turning point that led to Paul’s death. He made a terrible mistake, deciding to go to the Temple to appease James, and it was at the Temple that he was captured by those who would eventually hand him over to the Roman government to be killed.

To understand the tragedy of this passage, you need to remember that James was the leader of what we might call the fundamentalist Christians of the time. James was a legalist, and although he accepted Paul’s call to the Gentiles, on some level he still believed the Jewish law was vital. He didn’t like that Paul, a Jew, wasn’t following the Old Testament legalistically.

So, James asked Paul to compromise his principles just a little. You can almost hear him saying, “Can you just make a show of purifying yourself in the Temple, for the sake of respectability? I know you don’t believe in legalism, but can’t you pretend for a few days while you’re in Jerusalem? You’re going to confuse my congregation if you carry on like this!”

So, Paul agreed to do as James requested. He pretended to be a “good Jew” for the few days he was in Jerusalem. But, instead of appeasing the hardcore legalists as James had hoped, Paul’s actions infuriated them. They knew better than to believe that Paul — the missionary to the Gentiles — was really committed to legalism. Instead, they thought he was mocking them, desecrating their Temple. So, they hauled him away, and eventually turned him over to the Romans to be executed.

This story has a lot of relevance for those of us who’ve embraced a non-legalistic form of Christianity that believes everyone is included. We, too, are asked to pretend we still embrace legalism. We’re often asked to compromise our beliefs, to not rock the boat, to fake it for a few days — not to offend the family.

And so, the story of Paul’s last trip to the Temple should give us pause. Why are we thinking about compromising our principles? Are we remaining silent because we don’t want to offend, or because we want to fit in? And what will be the ultimate result if we cave to the demands of our more-legalistic brothers and sisters? Will it bring more harm, or less?

I don’t think there’s always a clear-cut answer. Sometimes the best thing to do is to “be all things to all people” (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22). But, sometimes, going along with the crowd will result in the saddest day of our lives.

Thought for the day: Do you have a James in your life, asking you not to rock the boat? Do you have the courage to stand up for what you know is right?

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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