Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Acts 23:1-12) transports me to episodes of my favorite courtroom dramas, Perry Mason and Matlock (it does me good to know that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor got her inspiration to become a lawyer from watching Perry defend client after client from Hamilton Burger’s prosecution). The Apostle Paul, Pharisee of the Pharisees, high priced prosecutor turned Christian missionary, is on trial here, or rather, according to Paul, the hope of resurrection is on trial. This hope, which seemed a capital idea, has become a capital offense to some in the courtroom, namely, the Sadducees who are threatened by the concept of resurrection. Paul creates a melodramatic distraction that Paul Drake would have been proud of, creating disorder in the court by stirring up the animosity between Pharisees and Saduccees. The hostility becomes so heated that the bailiff orders Paul removed, to prevent his impending dismemberment. And then, in one of those classic epilogues to the episode that gets you hooked into watching again next week, the risen Lord appears to Paul and tells him to take courage! I love the Message translation here: It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. Which is immediately followed by: The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. Right, not to worry, Paul. The jury’s out, but keep pressing, old boy. Don’t fret about a thing.
Resurrection on trial. It is a fascinating concept, the idea that the hope of resurrection could be so threatening that the powers that be would want it squashed at all costs. But when you think about it, it does make sense. Resurrection tears the status quo world apart. It breaks down the system of death, One of my favorite theologians, Dorothee Soelle, writes about this in her book Death by Bread Alone. She writes that death by disconnection and alienation rules our scene. And Jesus organized resistance to this death. The Jesus movement resisted the system of exclusion and exploitation imbedded in religion and government. Resurrection was a re-connection, an antidote to alienation. Soelle also talks about how resurrection is a present reality for Christians, not simply a future hope; she quotes 1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love one another.
Resurrection. Resistance. Resurgence. Interesting that the term surge has come to be associated with intensifying the violence and death of war, when the root meaning of re-surge is to rise again, to be resurrected. For Dorothee Soelle, it is a resurgence to the life of radical love. Now there’s a surge I can get behind. A surge of life. It spells trouble for the powers that be who are invested in the status quo of violence and death. But as Ben Matlock once answered, when the judge asked him if he was looking for trouble: Trouble is a two way street.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.