“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect…(Acts 24:5)
I’d like to start by drawing your attention to these words from Madeleine L’Engle. You may recall her as the author of the novel A Wrinkle in Time:
It seems that more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label. To identify is to control, to limit. To love is to call by name, and so open the wide gates of creativity. But we forget names, and turn to labels; there are many familiar ones today, such as: Fairy tales are not real and should be outgrown. Christians are people who are not strong enough to do it alone. Chopin is only a romantic. El Greco must have had astigmatism to account for his elongated people. All Victorian poets had TB. Roman Catholics are not Christians. Protestants cannot understand Holy Communion. People who write for children are second-class and cannot write for adults. And the list could go on and on and on. If we are pigeon-holed and labeled we are un-named.
Some of you will, I hope, recall me mentioning the word “just” before and the harm that it can do. It’s a word that we use to label and to limit. It’s a word that we use to make a person one dimensional. And usually it’s so we can give the impression that there is nothing more to that person than the thing we dislike about them:
• He’s just a drunk.
• She’s just lazy.
• He’s just a pervert.
• She’s just a bad mother.
You get the idea. One of the reasons we like to do that is because it reduces a person—makes them small enough to handle. Then we can put them over there in a little corner so we don’t have to bother with them or actually get to know them as a person.
This Sunday we’re going to see how often this happens to Paul once he actually arrives in Jerusalem. From the time he gets there through the end of the book of Acts, we’ll see people in power seek to vilify and, in the end, execute Paul. Their actions lead me to believe that they’re not interested in hearing the truth or treating Paul with decency. They just want him gone for good.
We’ll see that this is not the way of Christ. We’re not called to agree with everyone or compromise our beliefs or our integrity. But we are told very clearly be Jesus to love even those with whom we disagree. It’s a calling to a higher way of behaving than we see here at the end of Acts. One I hope we can aspire to.