Five days later the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported their case against Paul to the governor. When Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: “Your Excellency, because of you we have long enjoyed peace, and reforms have been made for this people because of your foresight. We welcome this in every way and everywhere with utmost gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you to hear us briefly with your customary graciousness. We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn from him concerning everything of which we accuse him.” The Jews also joined in the charge by asserting that all this was true.
The lawyer, Tertullus, brought by the Jewish leaders to Caesarea is so OTT, so lawyerly, so oily in his buttering up of the Roman Governor, this could almost be a pantomime! Or is this the author of Acts being ironic? The plot has failed, so now these Jews must resort to the law!
After the buttering-up of the Governor, they try a two-pronged attack on Paul. First, Tertullus appeals to the Governor’s wish for order and peace, trying to set Felix against Paul as an ‘agitator’. Then he appeals to the Roman uniformity, trying to marginalise Paul as a ‘ringleader of the sect of the Nazarene’.
Perhaps this is the time to ask what this group of Jews had against Paul and the Christians. In the words of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – “Why do the nations so furiously rage together? And why do the people imagine a vain thing?”
For me, the ‘vain thing’ is when one group is so sure they are ‘right’ that anyone who doesn’t agree is not only ‘wrong’ but ‘subhuman’ and therefore worthy to be eliminated. They need to ‘purify’ the human race from everything outside their definition of ‘rightness’.
So this group of Jews was so sure of their interpretation of the Torah, they believed the ‘Nazarene’ and his followers must be purged.
Now, I know some people would say I am a wet liberal, but I don’t think I could ever be so sure of anything in my faith that I could purge another human being for believing differently. What about you?
Discerning God, you know what is right, and you show us your Way in Jesus. Forgive us when we make mistakes and misunderstand. Keep us from being so certain that we make others bear the burden of our certainty. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Rand is a retired minister and member of Trinity Church, Bedlington.