Three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul. They appealed to him and requested, as a favour to them against Paul, to have him transferred to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, planning an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and that he himself intended to go there shortly. ‘So’, he said, ‘let those of you who have the authority come down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them accuse him.’ After he had stayed among them for not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea; the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he arrived, the Jews who had gone down from Jerusalem surrounded him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove. Paul said in his defence, ‘I have in no way committed an offence against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor.’ But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favour, asked Paul, ‘Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and be tried there before me on these charges?’ Paul said, ‘I am appealing to the emperor’s tribunal; this is where I should be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you very well know. Now if I am in the wrong and have committed something for which I deserve to die, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to the emperor.’ Then Festus, after he had conferred with his council, replied, ‘You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.’
The Americans have coined a, now universal, phrase about “speaking truth to power.” Those who work with powerful people are encouraged to be able to, respectfully of course, tell uncomfortable truths. Mr Trump was, famously, rather averse to this; back in September our government decided not to publish an economic forecast about their “fiscal event” – we assume, therefore, it wasn’t entirely positive. Good leaders invite critique in order to test their plans and stimulate creative thought; poor leaders reject such inconveniences. Either way one has to be pretty thick skinned and self assured to tell a leader their plans won’t work or they don’t have the authority they think they have. In our reading today Paul shows that he has such an attitude putting Festus in his place by asserting the Governor knew that Paul was innocent and insisting on his right, as a Roman citizen, to be tried by the Emperor. Of course we know this only delayed the inevitable and, perhaps, made a death sentence more likely.
How do we respond to this type of truth telling?
If we have any form of leadership role do we encourage those who work with us to be truthful in their critiques in the hope that plans are refined and become better? Or do we reject such truth telling and discourage critique?
If we have ideas to improve things are we willing to tell others or afraid that we’ll be victimised or disparaged?
Have we considered, before, that speaking truth to power is profoundly Biblical?
God of all truth, give us the grace to hear your uncontainable Word in our lives, to tell the truth when needed, to hear the truth even when it’s uncomfortable, that we may better discern Your will. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the Minister for Digital Worship and attends the Peedie Kirk URC in Orkney.