While he was making this defence, Festus exclaimed, ‘You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.’ Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.’ Then the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those who had been seated with them; and as they were leaving, they said to one another, ‘This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.’ Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.’
The two men speak with one another with the easy confidence of social equals; surprising perhaps when you consider that one is Agrippa, king of Judaea and Samaria – appointed by Rome and the other, the apostle Paul, has been languishing in prison for the previous two years. But they have some things in common. Each is familiar with the Jewish scriptures and each in his own way is a consummate diplomat.
Paul has taken great care to display his Jewish antecedents and beliefs. Although his chief concern was to preach the Gospel, this was entirely consistent with the predictions of “Moses and the prophets.” In a moment of intimacy, he asks Agrippa “Do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” The question is startling! Agrippa’s own throne was bound up with the history of Jewish kings and the prophets who spoke with them. Was Paul another in that line? The king cannot face the question but replies in blustering recognition of the truth: “Are you persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul’s response to the king and his retinue clarifies in all seriousness what is at stake.
And they walk away.
They walk away from redemption and new life. And as they do, they agree with one another in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the words of Pilate before Jesus, that Paul is innocent. And so Paul continues on his way to Rome, continuing to preach the gospel to all who will listen.
Our world may seem to be a complex mix of wrong-doing and calamity, and we share in that; but we also share the blessedness of the prophet who sees “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Do we need to be reminded that God wants to be known in us and through us that the world might be saved? Dare we walk away?
God of the prophets, in every age you send the word of truth, let us not be counted amongst those that lack faith, but give us vision to see Christ in our midst, and welcome your saving word, through Jesus Christ, redeemer of the world, Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington United Reformed Church.