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Stretch out your hands

by davesandel on May 30th, 2020

May 29, 2020               (today’s lectionary)

 Stretch out your hands

Paul’s haters don’t give up easily. Banding together to gird up their courage, forty of them will not eat or drink until they have killed Paul and spilled his blood. This is exciting, and inevitably this “secret” gets out.  Paul’s family finds Paul and warns him.

I would guess these bad guys don’t normally waste much time on fasting. They certainly aren’t used to being thirsty. Let’s get this over with quickly. So they hatch a plan to ambush him tomorrow.

The Roman commander and Paul have, by now, become friends. When he hears of the plan from Paul’s nephew he orders two hundred soldiers, seventy cavalry and two hundred auxiliaries to accompany Paul out of Jerusalem back to Caesarea, into the safekeeping of Governor Felix.

As we know, governors cannot always be relied on to act in their citizens’ best interests. The governor ordered that Paul be kept in Herod’s prison until his accusers could arrive for another verbal battle. They quickly came.

The Sanhedrin’s attorney sucked up to Felix and asked him to hear their case with his “customary graciousness.” He called Paul a pest, ringleader of a cult called “The Way,” and accused him of desecrating the temple. Paul, given his chance to speak, denied the desecration, in fact saying that “after many years I came to bring alms for my nation.” And he spoke of “The Way” not as a sect but the true path to salvation for all Jews and everyone else.

Felix was accurately informed about The Way and postponed the trial. In the meantime he protected Paul and kept him comfortable. However, this went on for two years.

In 2001 over eight hundred prisoners were held in the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Today there are 40 left. None of them have been criminally charged. None of them are scheduled to be released. There is no judicial explanation for holding them. They are what today we call being “detained.” This is a lot like what was happening to Paul, although for twenty years, not two.

Felix left Caesarea, succeeded by Porcius Festus, and Paul stayed in prison. The Jewish leaders again asked for Paul’s head, and Festus smartly insisted they come up to Caesarea to plead their case. After hearing them, Festus wanted to please his new people and asked Paul to go to Jerusalem to stand trial.

Paul, the Roman citizen, said no. Instead he said, “I appeal to Caesar.” Festus was more than willing to get rid of him. He said, “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go.”

Not so fast, however. And today’s lectionary begins at this point.

There must be time for the Herod Family to get their hands dirty in this mess. Besides, Festus was hoping to pass Paul along to them.

Just who’s in charge here?

The Lord has established his throne in heaven.

You’re in charge, right Lord?

Bless the Lord, o my soul.

Forget not all his benefits.

AS FAR AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST,

So far have you put our transgressions from us.

Your angels are mighty in strength.

 

Paul’s sojourn, like Peter’s, involved a lot of dialogue with God.

Simon, do you love me?” “Paul, do you love me?

Feed my lambs.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Paul of Tarsus, do you love me?”

Tend my sheep.

And Jesus said a third time, recalling the cock’s crow, “Simon! Do you love me?” So Peter was distressed. “YOU KNOW that I love you!”

And Jesus might have thought, “Do I?”

PAUL! Do you love me? “Jesus, you know that I love you!”

 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of Jesus. And you Peter, and you Paul, and so many more of you, “When you grow old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you. They will lead you where you do not want to go.”

And even so Jesus says, “Follow me.”

Reading this I have always thought simply of getting old, which goes something like this:

Sitting old and somewhat forgotten in a nursing home somewhere in Siberia, or central Illinois, I read these verses near the end of the gospel of John and I think, with at least a little self-pity, of myself. My body no longer cooperates or allows me to do much for myself. Others dress me and help me up, hold my by the hand and lead me. I am going to a dinner I don’t want to eat, to exercise I don’t want to do, to playtime when I don’t want to play.

Living in this end-of-life time, must I be a sad, foolish martyr, or can I relax and let myself be loved?

“Stretch out your hands,” Jesus says. And so I stretch them out.

“Let me lead you,” Jesus says. I look into his eyes, they are clear and bright. I trust him.

Let these others lead you in my place,” Jesus says.

Oh.

“Trust them, because you are safe with me.”

Yes.

The way it was is not the way it is.

And that’s OK.       (Acts 25, Psalm 103, John 21)

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