Reading Luke and Acts in 2020
Week 48 | Acts 24
Acts 24 Reflections and Questions
By Rev. Beth Sanders
Paul is a prisoner of the Romans, scheduled to appear before Felix, the governor of the Roman province of Judea. He had been arrested in Jerusalem as a riot was about to break out in the temple courts. Twice he attempted to negotiate with the Jewish leaders and testify to them about Jesus, but they refused to listen; and now, after a plot against his life, he has been brought down to the province capital, Caesarea, to face the governor.
Felix had succeeded Pontius Pilate in that role five years earlier, and prior to that, had lived in Samaria. He was familiar with the Jews and their precarious relationship with the empire. He was born a slave but was freed elevated to this role through his brother’s relationship with the emperor. He led a tempestuous life, seducing Drusilla away from the king of Emesa and hiring thugs to eliminate anyone who impeded his political ambitions. Now Felix is to be the “judge” of Paul’s offenses to the general peace.
The Romans had a far-flung empire to administer, which could not tolerate civil disorder. The famous Pax Romana was a governing tactic in which peace was regarded, not as an absence of war, but as the careful balance of power secured by swift and public annihilation of resistance. Tertullus charges Paul with threatening that carefully orchestrated peace by accusing him of being a revolutionary, a religious radical, and a sacrilegious fanatic, stirring up riots among the Jews across the empire. His legal argument was designed to strike a nerve with Felix, whose ability to keep the peace was in question.
Paul defends himself by admitting that he is a “radical” proponent of true peace through belief in Jesus Christ. (And besides that, he has only been there for twelve days, hardly enough time to organize a riot!) Though Felix had received a letter from Lysias exonerating Paul, the governor claims he needs a second opinion, keeping Paul under arrest, which satisfies the Jewish leaders. Felix attempts to keep the peace, while Paul bears the fruit of peace. Over the next two years, Felix summons Paul often, hoping for a bribe, but also hearing and experiencing his witness to true peace.
Questions for Reflection
We are reading Acts 24 just before Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, following a contentious national election and in the continuing trauma of a global pandemic resurging. Disappointment and fear heighten the tension in our political life and create stress on our relationships. Words of peace seem quaint, powerless and, frankly, absurd to an amped-up and worn-out world.
What is the peace of Christ?
During that time in conversation with his jailor, Paul did not avoid, tolerate, or appease. He never gave Felix that hoped-for bribe. But, observing the operations of the Pax Romana, Paul developed a theology of peace, about which he later wrote to the Philippians (4:6-9).
What is the difference between “keeping the peace” and “bearing the fruit of peace”? (Galatians 5:22-23)
There is a certain absurdity to "a peace that passes understanding,” a holy peace that is at once the largest and smallest of things. Watch this conversation between a father and young son about peace after a bombing in Paris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAbw5JlS6SE
What kind of radical presence of peace does our Advent candle represent this year? How can you welcome it?
May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love.
—Teresa of Avila
Rev. Beth Sanders is Mission Specialist for the South East District of the North Georgia Conference.