Guilty Until Proven Innocent


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Hosea 9:10-17, Acts 24:24-25:12, Luke 8:1-15

After fleeing an angry Jerusalem mob who falsely accused him and conspired to kill him, Paul found himself in Caesarea. Felix, the governor, was familiar with The Way and sympathetic to Paul. When Paul’s accusers arrived, they argued their case that he had defiled the temple, but couldn’t make the charges stick in a Roman court. Rather than free Paul, Felix kept him in protective custody – for two years! He hoped to get money from Paul, and frequently invited him to visit and converse. Paul’s teachings about justice and self-control unnerved Felix. Eventually Felix’s successor arrived, but even then he left Paul in prison to appease the Jews. The new governor, Festus, didn’t wait long to hear Paul’s case, but he in turn decided to send Paul to Rome and the emperor for judgment.

Friends were allowed to visit and attend to Paul’s needs, but two years of confinement with no hearing was certainly unjust. Felix and Festus were true politicians who didn’t want any negative repercussions pinned to them. Freeing Paul would have angered the Jews, and convicting him would have been blatantly against the law, so instead he was left to languish.

The parallels to our modern political and justice systems are sadly obvious.

If we were Christians living in first-century Caesarea, would we have been fighting to free Paul as fiercely as his enemies fought against him? Acts doesn’t mention anyone advocating on his behalf. All around the world, people are unjustly imprisoned for political and religious reasons. A few dedicated souls toil to liberate them, but most of us shake our heads, perhaps pray a little, and don’t believe there’s much we can do.

But there is. Our faith communities can speak out against the conditions that allow such things to happen. We can organize or support non-partisan justice efforts. Our shared Christian history is one of both being unjustly persecuted, and of unjustly persecuting – and both still happen today. Our political role is not to side with one party or the other, but to be a prophetic voice against the injustices of the system itself.

Comfort: In matters of justice, even your small voice matters.

Challenge: Use it.

Prayer: God of justice, give me the courage to confront injustice where I see it, and the wisdom not to participate in it. Amen.

Discussion: If you had to pick one justice issue to receive your efforts, what would it be and why?

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