Paul the Roman Citizen
22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”
26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”
27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered.
28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.
29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
Here is the last verse from yesterday’s reading: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” And here is the first verse from today’s reading: The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” They were with him in his conversion story at Damascus, until he said the word “Gentile.” This sent them into riot mode again! The Jewish people could not stand the idea that God might save Jews and Gentiles alike and in the same way. The Jews of that day did not have a problem with Gentiles becoming Jews. But they were incredibly offended at the thought of Gentiles becoming Christians just as Jews became Christians, because it implied that Jews and Gentiles were equal, having come to God on the same terms. This didn't seem fair.
Their long history with God, and their ethnic pride caused a paralysis of heart and mind. All reason left the crowd as they became “blind” to this new understanding of truth, through Jesus Christ. This truth, the message that Paul preached is that through Jesus Christ, all may come to God just as you are – Jew, Gentile, foreigner, rich, poor, educated or not.
I wonder how often we become just like that crowd. We intellectually know grace is a free gift offered to all, but practically we don’t like it when it seems “more free” to someone else. If we have worked our whole lives to follow Jesus, is it fair for someone to become a Christian at the end of life? If we try to live a righteous life and others do not seem to live by the same standard, are they even Christians? Jesus says, “Yes and Yes.” We don’t have to approve of someone’s behavior, way of life, choices, or anything else. Because it is not up to us. It is up to Jesus to do the work of grace. God alone is the giver of grace.
Is there someone about which you think you are a better, more deserving Christian? Try to imagine them through the eyes of Jesus. Pray for them. Pray for yourself to live fully into the grace that has been offered to you, without judgement of others.
God, I commit my way to you. I am ready to follow your call, no matter the direction. Guide me with your Spirit and give me courage to follow you closely. May I continue to grow in my trust and faith in you, oh Lord. You are my rock and my redeemer. Thank you for loving me so. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.