But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters.’ And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things.
I am sure we have all had a time when we were troubled by someone else’s actions and have tried to report this or sought help over this. How irritating it is when we are not listened to! But equally I imagine that most of us have been incorrectly represented to a person of authority and find ourselves upset and hurt by being reported.
Here we have a complaint going on accusing Paul of speaking in direct contrast to the law. Into this time of turmoil comes Gallio. He had ‘the Jews’ complaining about Paul and then interrupted Paul who was not even able to speak out. However no one was the winner here – Gallio refused to listen and so ‘the Jews’ were dismissed; Paul unfairly accused – but let off the hook; and then the poor official of the synagogue became the scapegoat of all this!
What a mess! How often in life have we faced such things? Accusations, counter accusations, reported comments, verbal attacks made with little or no real evidence and often involving power battles and personal grievances. How do we cope with all this? Both in our personal lives and in our work, social or church lives? The most important thing is to not dismiss everyone and pass the buck, but to listen. In this text the anger and emotion are evident. But if Gallio had been able to listen, get them all to sit down together and talk to each other, express their frustrations, and share their concerns, then, maybe, some resolution may have been made. Poor Sosthenes would have got home in time for dinner, unscathed!
Seriously, all too often we jump to conclusions, make judgements, and apportion blame. We fail to listen to the story of those we perceive to be ‘on the other side’ and damage relationships. It is not easy to hold emotions in check and try to respond rationally, but it certainly will improve situations that are tough. The Mennonites, known for their work in relation to reconciliation, are part of the Anabaptist tradition. One of the 7 core convictions of the Anabaptists is: ‘Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society and between nations’. (p.25 The Naked Anabaptist. Stuart Murray. Paternoster). What an admirable core conviction. And one that many of us could benefit from seeking to work towards. We believe in a God of peace and justice. Christ showed that non-violent resistance works better than head on clashes. What would the world look like if more of us followed the Jesus Way in relation to conflict resolution?
God of peace. The world is full of pain and anger and power struggles. Help me to seek peaceful ways to tackle disagreements. Help me to listen and understand that each conflict has two sides and that taking time to listen and talk about them can help ease the conflict and minimise the differences. Help me, in my small and really quite insignificant way, to be the change I want to see around me. And to buck the trend that says every argument has to be won. Because if we all seek to find new ways to deal with conflict, the world would truly begin to look your kingdom has come. Amen.
The Rev’d Jenny Mills is Minister at Newport Pagnell URC and West End, United Church, Wolverton.