A.D. The Bible Continues, Episode 5

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A couple of things really slapped me across the face this week. One was the scene with Peter and Caiaphas singing over Boaz’ body. For a moment, they were equals, of the same mind, a reminder of how alike in that sense they are – men living under tyrannical oppression in a brutal culture … and then the shift. Peter brings up Jesus, and Caiaphas is no longer temporarily sated. The bond implodes. In an instant, he returns to the High Priest, to the need for power and control. “Arrest him.”

This episode was all about power, and its insidiousness. We saw Peter coming to terms with leadership and actively not really wanting it, but taking it on as a greater moral responsibility while the other characters clung to power and do everything they can to maintain control over others. Pilate has wielded it from the start as a weapon and continues to act progressively crueler (as a side note, to my knowledge, women were never crucified, and I don’t think the real Pilate would ever suggest that… so far he seems to be a stereotypical mustache-twirling villain without any redeeming points, which is unfortunate).

Caiaphas on occasion shows a more human side, only to turn around and reveal his own enjoyment of power, when pronouncing a sentence of death upon all the captured disciples. “How few words can be used to end a life,” the President of the Sanhedrin chastises him. But still, power. It’s what he’s held onto from the start, and it’s why he has such a struggle with Pilate. Both of them want to be in control. Boaz even wants to be in control… of his own fate and on a larger scale, to not be under the authority of another. ad2 Interestingly, everyone is rebelling against authority and control, yet Peter is preaching that one must surrender to God, leave their fate in His hands, and trust the outcome. He is saying… surrender control of oneself, and rebellion, and let God be in control! What a radical notion, particularly in a culture that constantly fights against controlling external forces … the Romans and the Sanhedrin alike. At one point when Caiaphas spoke of Rome as a monster, someone in our viewing group piped up that he is one too, he just cannot see it. And it’s true: power has made him a monster, and just as cruel as the Romans.

And then there’s Claudia, a woman who is not cruel but who doesn’t comprehend how completely her mindset is entrenched in Roman superiority. She risked her life to warn a Jewish family that her husband’s soldiers were coming for them, but could not stop the violence. She assisted them in finding Boaz to cease the slaughter, so that “things might return to normal.” But what is that “normal” inside Jerusalem? Caiaphas’ wife Leah pointed out that it is an occupying army sucking up their resources and committing murder on a mass scale, and that Claudia is part of the problem. And then, Claudia first tells her off for assuming such things about her, offended that she would liken her to Pilate, and then threatens her to put her in her place, proving Leah’s point: you believe you are higher than me, because I am a mere Jew, and you are the occupier who must be obeyed. And Claudia’s silent admission through her behavior was: that’s exactly what I think. More power struggles… which one of us is superior? Higher? In control here? It’s me. I’m the Roman! I’m the governor’s wife! You will submit to me! How dare you call me a bigot! Ha, ha. Burn. ad1 The reason the scene with Peter and Caiaphas singing over Boaz so intrigues me is that it shows two people on a similar course whose paths suddenly diverge; Caiaphas is all about the brutal old ways (of stoning, of punishment, of “persecuting all the prophets,” as poor Stephen said), and Peter is all about love, forgiveness, and spiritual power. It made me sad to see it, because the thought crossed my mind of how different Caiaphas could be if he put aside all the traditional trappings and embraced the truth. I’ve also seen “Christians” like this – so steeped in scripture that they miss Jesus. He’s just part of the story, not the center of it. Their lives are not about grace and love for others but pride, knowledge, control, power, and justification of cruelty. Many people are modern-day Caiaphas’s, and it’s tragic, because a tree is judged by its fruit, and when a tree turns out rigid, unfeeling, cold, brutal legalism instead of love, the tree is sick.

ad1I’m intrigued that Boaz would turn himself in. Perhaps Peter shamed him, or he was moved to protect the innocent people in the encampment. Soon, very soon, Saul will scatter them. It won’t make sense to them at the time, but the truth must spread throughout the world. Boaz’ story is … a constant reminder of a city under occupation and cruelty, and of the factions they were fighting against. His view of the world, of martyrdom for revolution, is in striking contrast to that of the Messiah. Boaz preached violence and revolt, Jesus preached love and surrender. Boaz volunteered to die, as did Jesus. Both were tortured. But only one rose again. Jesus’ death was mercifully cut short because “it is finished,” and Boaz’ death was “mercifully” cut short because … his allies did not want him to talk. And just as Jesus’ death (and resurrection) inspired others to seek out Peter and the disciples and join them, Boaz’ death is inspiring his girlfriend (wife?) to seek out the revolutionary cause and join it. But one path leads to persecution for a greater cause and eternal life, and the other leads to violence and death. Nice contrast. Unlike the other women in the story, she is going to nurture her hate rather than sacrifice. Hatred, and holding on to anger and resentment, is a much harder path than simply forgiving and letting things go. ad4 Lastly, Stephen. Oh, he makes my heart hurt and me feel shame, for many reasons. He is so unafraid to die for what he believes in, whereas I suspect in his place I would run and hide. (The same goes for the disciples. An angel of the LORD lets them out of prison and … they go running back into the temple to preach about Jesus! I suspect I would have hightailed it out the city gates and gone to Galilee. Stealth preaching, yo!) Here, I am going to launch a small complaint and that is that at times, this miniseries errs on the side of being too violent; I’m not sure we needed to see stones striking Stephen’s head, brutally, again and again in order to comprehend what an awful thing stoning is. (I say is, because it still happens. Sick, huh?) But, our introduction to Saul was … powerful. Ominous. He was so calm in his observance, so deliberate as he handed over the stone that killed Stephen at last. He’s a rising threat, and will terrorize them in the next couple of episodes. I would say I am excited to see it unfold, but that sounds awful, so I will merely say that I am eager to see Saul’s personal journey toward Christ.

God often moves in interesting ways, and this series, for me, has come at a time when I’m ingesting a lot of spiritually heavy stuff, so it’s one more brick in the foundation of change that is taking place in my life. I’m reading theologically heavy books and seeing an example of the early church unfold in front of me that … makes me want to be a purer believer. So whatever else this miniseries accomplishes, it’s a weekly “check” in my spirit that keeps me humble, because my faith is small in comparison to that which flourished in the early church.

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