Friday, May 21, 2010

Feed My Lambs, Feed My Sheep.

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 25:13b-21
King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea
on a visit to Festus.
Since they spent several days there,
Festus referred Paul’s case to the king, saying,
“There is a man here left in custody by Felix.
When I was in Jerusalem
the chief priests and the elders of the Jews
brought charges against him
and demanded his condemnation.
I answered them that it was not Roman practice
to hand over an accused person
before he has faced his accusers
and had the opportunity
to defend himself against their charge.
So when they came together here,
I made no delay;
the next day I took my seat on the tribunal
and ordered the man to be brought in.
His accusers stood around him,
but did not charge him
with any of the crimes I suspected.
Instead they had some issues
with him about their own religion
and about a certain Jesus who had died
but who Paul claimed was alive.
Since I was at a loss
how to investigate this controversy,
I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem
and there stand trial on these charges.
And when Paul appealed
that he be held in custody
for the Emperor’s decision,
I ordered him held
until I could send him to Caesar.”
We are now moving rather quickly to the end of the Acts. We have to finish between today and tomorrow, which is the end of the Easter season. Next week we will return to what is called “Ordinary Time”.

After Paul was rescued from the uproar in the Sanhedrin, a group of Jews were determined to assassinate Paul and were concocting a plot to bring it about. However, Paul’s nephew got wind of it and passed the information to the Romans. So Paul was taken away from Jerusalem and sent under heavy guard to Governor Felix in Caesarea to await formal charges from his Jewish accusers. Both the Jews and Paul presented their case to Felix in the most flattering terms. Felix was rather sympathetic to Paul and was apparently aware of Christian beliefs. He kept Paul in custody for a further two years, because he liked discussing religion until Paul began to tell him about moral behaviour and the judgement to come. Feeling somewhat uneasy, he postponed further meetings indefinitely. He also hoped for a bribe from Paul to expedite his release. (Apparently not expecting Paul to practise what he preached!)

The next governor, Festus, was more favourable to the Jews. He again allowed them to come up to Caesarea to confront Paul in court. Knowing what the Jews wanted, Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem to be tried. Paul knew that was tantamount to a death sentence (indeed the Jews planned to murder him on the way), so he played his final trump card. He appealed as a Roman citizen to a Roman trial. The governor now had no choice. “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go,” he said.

We now enter today’s reading. We see King Agrippa and his sister Bernice come to pay a courtesy visit to Festus in Caesarea. It was customary for rulers to pay a complimentary visit to a new ruler at the time of his appointment. It was to the advantage of each that they get along. (We might compare the relationship of Herod Antipas with Pontius Pilate. See especially Luke 23:6-12.)

Agrippa and Bernice were an interesting couple to say the least.

Agrippa, Bernice and Drusilla were children of King Herod Agrippa I. Herod Agrippa II was 17 years old at the death of his father in AD 44 (Acts 12:23). Being too young to succeed his father, he was replaced by Roman procurators. Eight years later, however, a gradual extension of territorial authority began. Ultimately he ruled over territory north and northeast of the Sea of Galilee, over several Galilean cities and over some cities in Perea. At the Jewish revolt, when Jerusalem fell, he was on the side of the Romans. He died about AD 100 - the last of the Herods.

Bernice, “when only 13, married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis, and had two sons. When Herod died, she lived with her brother, Agrippa II. To silence rumours that she was living in incest with her brother, she married Polemon, king of Cilicia, but left him soon to return to Agrippa. She became the mistress of the emperor Vespasian’s son Titus but was later ignored by him” (NIV Bible). Titus, as emperor, was responsible for the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. The memory of that event is recorded on the sculptural reliefs of the Arch of Titus still standing in the Roman Forum.

The governor now took the opportunity for Paul to present his case to the king, who was a Jew. The governor gives a slightly distorted account of the proceedings held in his presence with the Jews from Jerusalem. In reply to the Jews’ demand to have Paul surrendered to them, Festus said that it was not in accordance with Roman law to hand someone over before he had a chance to speak in his own defence.
However, when the trial began in Festus’ presence, none of the charges he expected were brought forward. Instead they were arguing about matters concerning their own religion and there was talk of a Jesus who had died but whom Paul was claiming to be alive. Festus wanted the Jews to deal with this issue themselves but, because Paul had appealed to Rome, he had to be remanded in custody until he could be sent to Caesar. The emperor in question was Nero who reigned (if that is the appropriate word) from AD 54-68.

While every stage in this story can be understood as taking place in response to the various actions of the participants, they are also to be seen as factors which were to bring Paul to the heart of the empire in Rome. Rome would in time become the centre of Christ’s Kingdom on earth. It is the fulfilment of the words of Jesus before his ascension: “You will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.”

Once again, we see the finger of God behind every action of every person in the story. His finger is in our life stories too. Can we see that? And where will we find him in today’s experiences?
+++    +++    +++    +++  
Psalm 103
The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness
toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
John 21:15-19
After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples
and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John,
do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him,
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him,
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed
that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything;
you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself
and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old,
you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying
by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
The disciples now claim to understand exactly what Jesus is talking about, although it is doubtful that they really do. It will not be until later on that the full meaning of Jesus’ words will be grasped by them.

They are impressed that Jesus can answer their questions even before they are formulated. “Because of this we believe that you came from God.” Yet, perhaps they are speaking too soon.
Jesus questions the depth of their belief. Very soon, in spite of their protestations now, they will be scattered in all directions and leave Jesus alone and abandoned. Of course, Jesus will not be alone; the Father is always with him even at the lowest depths of his humiliation. Even when he himself will cry out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

He tells them all this, not to discourage them, but so that they can find peace. There will be many troubles facing them in the coming days and indeed in the years ahead. They are not to worry: Jesus has conquered the world, not in any political or economic sense but in overcoming the evil of the world. His disciples can share in that victory, as long as they stay close to him and walk his Way.

These words obviously have meaning for us especially if we are experiencing difficulties of any kind in our lives. The peace we seek is available if we put ourselves into Jesus’ hands. He knows; he has been through more than anything we are ever likely to have to experience.

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