Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, “Get ready to leave by nine o’clock tonight for Caesarea with two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.” He wrote a letter to this effect: “Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, but when I had learned that he was a Roman citizen, I came with the guard and rescued him. Since I wanted to know the charge for which they accused him, I had him brought to their council. I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.” So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him during the night to Antipatris. The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked what province he belonged to, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” Then he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s headquarters.
Wow! Serious protection! 470 soldiers to protect one man! The plotters outnumbered 10 to 1! And a letter of safe passage from the Tribune to the Governor. Paul was certainly seeing the benefit of his Roman citizenship. And no doubt he was grateful for the Roman respect for the rules of evidence and due process. Roman rule respected minorities. It could look uniform, but there was a place for (almost) everyone. However, perhaps Tribune Lysias knew a religious fanatic when he saw one, and he was going to have no shenanigans on his watch!
Often times God gives us protection through human agency. And not always through God-fearing, or even God-believing agency.
Paul was a citizen three times over. He was a citizen of Rome, under Rome’s law, but also due Rome’s protection. He was a Jew, subject to the Torah – but also entitled to a fair hearing from the Jewish lawyers. Finally Paul was a citizen of the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus – the Kingdom ‘whose armies we may not see’. Paul was glad of Rome, he was faithful to his Jewish heritage, but his final, total loyalty was to Jesus. What about us?
Faithful God, when our faithfulness and loyalty are challenged, help us to keep in mind where we truly belong, and give us the courage to stay faithful. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Rand is a retired minister and member of Trinity Church, Bedlington.