ACTS 23: 3-7
3 Then Paul said to him, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, ”Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know brethren that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” 6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sad’ducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial. 7 And when Paul said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sad’ducees; and the assembly was divided.
On trial, Paul does many noteworthy things. First, he addresses the Sanhedrin by using the term, “Brethren,” instead of the traditional, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel.” This puts him on equal footing with the court. Second, he challenges the High Priest with his order to have Paul slapped in verses 1-3. In fact, he points out that the High Priest has broken a law by ordering a fellow Israelite to be slapped on the cheek, and further, calls out the Priest as being a “whitewashed wall.” He is referring to the practice of painting the walls of tombs white so that the law-abiding did not accidentally touch a dead body, which is also a law. By saying this, Paul is basically saying to the High Priest that he is acting as if he was above the law. Then Paul recognizes the different beliefs of the Sad’ducess, who did not believe in the hope of the resurrection, and the Pharisees who did. He uses their divides to help save his life.
In reading and studying this passage, I was struck by how complicated the laws were, and by how easy is was to break one in an effort to enforce another. What also struck me were the strong divides of the Sad’ducees and the Pharisees.
But we know that Jesus brought a replacement of these old laws. In a recent message to the Church, Bishop Curry quotes Jesus’ replacement of those laws with the two commandments: “Love the Lord God with all your heart and soul, all your mind, all your strength” and “you should love your neighbor as yourself.” He further says, “Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the way of unselfish sacrificial love that seeks the good and the well being of others, as well as yourself, that love, is the rubric of Christian life.” In Father Mark’s sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday, he challenged us to “remember to be people of hope, a people who are clued Into Jesus’ desire that we live the abundant life, Jesus’ desire that we have life abundant all around us.”
Although we were handed this wonderful Grace, have Christians repeated the divisions of the believers that came before them? With these two laws to follow, have we gone off course of the core of Christianity in our conversations with each other, and with those who have not yet found the Gift? In a time when we can’t be together physically, how can we be more united as a church and with the entire Christian community? What binds us all together and how can we individually become the “people of hope” to each other and to those who have yet to find God’s Love?
Tara Lightner, EfM, Year 1