In Acts 22 we have the first of three speeches Paul will make to defend himself before governors and kings. On each occasion, Paul will be defending himself against Jewish opposition. The fact that so much of Acts 22 – 26 is devoted to this defense shows how central this matter is in the story of Acts. This particular chapter gives us more information regarding Paul’s conversion. It’s the first time he has told his side of the story (Acts 9 was Luke’s side of the story).
In today’s reading, I am struck by Paul’s focus on being a “devout” Jew. He was “thoroughly trained” in the law by Gamaliel (mentioned as a leading Jewish figure in Acts 5). He claims his zeal for the law was just as great as his persecutors’ and it led him to do to Christians as they are doing to him. Those in the highest positions of Judean government know this to be true.
But Paul’s life was changed.
It was changed by meeting Jesus on the persecution highway.
It was changed through the direction of a “devout observer of the law” named Ananias, a man highly respected by all the Jews in Damascus.
What is Paul’s point?
It is simply that if his persecutors were going to be good Jews, they would have to yield to the will of God and place their faith in Jesus, just as Paul had.
But this isn’t really what stirs them up (note verse 22).
It is the notion that God would let gentiles – non Jews – into His chosen family, and that God had called Paul to make that happen. That piece of information drove them crazy.
I’m writing this a week after the 2012 presidential election. The morning’s Washington Post carried a front page article about a woman from Tennessee, a leader in the local Republican party, wife of a pastor, no doubt a good woman, but one who is bewildered that her countrymen did not elect her candidate, and fearful for the future of her nation.
She does, in a way, find herself in the same boat with Paul’s Jewish opponents. Their world is changing, and not, they think, for the better.
The Jews were wrong about this. The Tennessee woman is right. But both miss the crucial point. God’s change does not come by maintaining the status quo or mandating “family values”. It does not come through political campaigns or elections, public policy or the judiciary. It comes through boldly calling people, all people, not to “believe as we do” (which breeds divisiveness), but to “follow Jesus” – and make sure we follow him ourselves.
We’ll still be opposed of course, and feel oppressed and bewildered. But at least it will be for the right reason.