When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Away with him!’
Paul had his life turned round from being a persecutor to becoming a follower of Jesus himself. Saul became Paul, as a sign of the new life he was now living which took him to many different places, testifying to the Good News of Jesus Christ, bringing about the possibility of change in people’s lives. However, on this journey, there were also moments of struggle and persecution, of challenge and distress. In today’s passage, he’s not welcomed, but faces accusations and opposition. He’s accused of teaching against the Law, and of bringing foreigners into a holy place. A crowd comes and drags him out of the Temple, and tries to kill him. Then the authorities arrive and, instead of killing him, arrest him, carrying him away to temporary safety.
Over the centuries in the West there have been many conflicts within the Church, leading to separation and division. Now, the Christian faith is seen as being in decline in the West. In the UK, Christian values are quietly disappearing, as, for example, in the change from the priority given to care for the homeless and refugees replaced by policies such as deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. Another example is the move away from offering health care free to all at the point of delivery, in the establishment of the National Health Service, with policies of outsourcing and charging being explored.
While in this country we can give thanks that we do not yet get persecuted for our faith, we do face the challenge of standing up in the face of less than Christian values in order to testify to what we believe. Standing up for our faith in the God who is good, loving, and just, who is particularly revealed as three-in-one and one-in-three, and who draws us into the relationality within the Godhead to live relationally with others rather than as individuals in isolation. We can take both wisdom and courage in the face of indifference and opposition.
Loving God, I give thanks for the strength and courage you gave Paul, to remain faithful to You even in the midst of opposition and persecution. I pray for those who are today persecuted for their faith. I pray for the courage to speak out, even in the face of an opposing crowd. May I be bold, not in putting others down, but in proclaiming Your love for all. Amen.
Revd Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired minister, active ecumenically and theologically, member of St Andrew’s URC Ealing