ACTS 21: 23-26
“Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.”
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them.”
In Jerusalem, Paul is faced with mobs that were violent, threatened and angry about their belief that Paul had been encouraging Jews to renounce their faith, turn away from their traditions and throw away their customs. These were all rumors and were all false. Paul had been spreading Christ’s message of the Great Love. He, a Jew himself, did assert that the Law was no longer relevant as Christ had offered a new law that simultaneously summarized and replaced the old laws. He did offer the Good News of the resurrection. But never once did Paul suggest that people throw away their life building blocks. Paul wanted to build on their faith, not destroy it. He offered a Breath of fresh air and news of the Grace of God that they already spent their lives trying to gain favor of, not a message to turn away from God.
The group that Paul was traveling with urged him to prove that he stood with the Jews. They ask him to sponsor four men completing the Nazarite vow. This process was expensive and not many people who wanted to complete the ritual could afford to do it, so they often were financed by people who had the financial resources and who wanted to donate to, and be seen doing so, to this religious effort. Paul agrees to stand with these men in front of the Temple and pays for their endeavor. In The Acts of the Apostles, William Barclay writes: “There can be no doubt that the matter was distasteful to Paul. For him the relevancy of things like that was gone. But it is the sign of a truly great man that he can subordinate his own wishes and views for the sake of the Church. There is a time when compromise is not a sign of weakness but of strength.”
In order to further Christ’s message, Paul drops his ego and offers an act of love in his compromise. He puts his agenda aside to first recognize where these people lived. He participates in a ritual that he sees as irrelevant to show the crowds that he really hears them and recognizes that their core beliefs are important in his conversation.
In what areas of our lives are we willing to truly listen to each other and compromise to further the goal of spreading and acting in the Great Love?
Tara Lightner, EfM, Year 1