So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then Festus gave the order and Paul was brought in. And Festus said, ‘King Agrippa and all here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and when he appealed to his Imperial Majesty, I decided to send him. But I have nothing definite to write to our sovereign about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write – for it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.’
Picture the scene. A new governor and a king who had not met before this encounter. Underlying this event were matters of power, politics and religion. The Roman rulers, keen to keep the Jewish inhabitants of Israel compliant and always looking for ways to do that at little cost to themselves. On the day in question both Festus and Agrippa would have wanted to demonstrate their relative place in the scheme of things so both would have made sure that they could demonstrate their importance by those who accompanied them to the meeting.
But you don’t have to look far when such a combination of power and politics is at play to find fear. Festus has been petitioned by ‘the whole Jewish community’. If he fails to satisfy them he may well have to deal with rebellion amongst them which would incur the displeasure of his Roman bosses. He is at a loss to know what to do and no doubt fearful for his own future. His hope is that Agrippa may be able to come up with some helpful words for him to write which will get him off the hook.
In the eyes of the Jews and of Paul, the matter of dispute is simple. The man Jesus had died but,asserts Paul, is alive again. Put that simply it doesn’t make sense and neither does the death sentence which the Jews are demanding.
Finding words to convey Jesus’ message of salvation wasn’t easy then and isn’t easy now. But this was more a matter of justice as Festus tried to be fair in handing out judgement. If we find ourselves in a situation of defending our faith Festus would be a good ally to have. And maybe our calling is sometimes to be a Festus seeking truth and recognising injustice.
God of rich and poor, give us the courage to stand for justice, to seek the truth and to strive for equity.
Where this means speaking truth to power, give us the words. Where this means standing alongside friends and family give us the understanding
Where this means allowing relationships to mend and grow give us patience and in all we our words and actions may your kingdom grow.
Val Morrison, elder and lay preacher, Ardeen Road URC Doncaster