That was an incredible hour of television.
I’ve been dithering over which episode of this show to use to get people interested and, it’ll be this one. The writers didn’t miss the opportunity to show a profound contrast between Peter and Paul, who is for the present, Saul. A man full of righteous indignation, of hatred, of unyielding devotion and worship of the Temple, who respects it and all who reside in it, and who has the gall to walk into an encampment of Messiah-followers and get into a heated public debate with Peter. Watching them go at it verbally is the equivalent of seeing two mythological titans locked in eternal warfare. It was intense. It took my breath away, both for what was said and because I know what is coming. I know that this powerful, angry man will be broken on the Road to Damascus, and that fire, passion, and devotion will turn toward the sharing of Christ’s word. There’s a reason God chose Paul, and it’s … THIS.
But wow, what a powerful reminder of how a man can go one way or another, be used for good or evil. For the present, Saul is being used for evil. He is embracing violence and the “old ways,” set in impenetrable stone. Christ will turn that around, and change it, and draw love from Paul’s heart, and he will become one of the central players in Christian history. It’s vital to establish the man Saul was before his conversion experience; so that we can witness the total transformation that Jesus has upon a life. There are few transformations more dramatic than Saul. I can’t wait to see Peter and he interact on a completely different level. Peter was also, as usual, wonderful. His speech about how he is not the rock, but the rock is Christ, and that there is no literal church but that it dwells us His followers, actually brought a tear to my eye. I am not the fist-pumping or indeed, show all my- feelings with exuberance sort (too much British ancestry? hah!), but I wanted to shout “Amen.”
In a way, I almost see Saul as a parallel for Caiaphas. Both of them are devoted to the Temple, and to protecting “the old ways.” Saul is angry that they are trying to replace centuries of traditional worship and teaching. Both men believe in power through force; in persecuting those who disagree with the Temple. And soon, we will get to see through Paul what Caiaphas’ life could have been, had he opened his heart to the truth rather than shut it out.
The choice of Paul raises interesting questions about why God chooses the people that He does; we can say that He chooses willing hearts, but that’s not entirely supported by scripture. Jonah was anything but willing, and Saul closed his ears to Peter’s words. But it serves to remind us that God sees our heart, our innermost will, our greater potential, and in Paul, he saw a man who would, with a powerful experience, surrender and become a tremendous force for good. If nothing else, it reminds us to never see anyone as a “lost cause,” because God knows their hearts better than we do. If He got through to Saul, no conversion is impossible. So, pray for people. Pray for them to be broken if need be, in order to find spiritual healing. (Side note: I loved Saul bullying Barnabas. That he encounters him, of all people, first when he enters the camp is fantastic. Hello, foreshadowing.)
The power dynamics in this episode continue to be interesting; I loved how so much of the episode was consumed by the idea of taking power from Caiaphas. Scheming to rob him of his role as High Priest led to many conversations and recruitments, and the eventual dismissal of Joseph of A. from his position (had I not known Saul was headed for the camp to burn it to the ground, I would have told him to get his sandaled feet out there and join them). And then, the case is taken to Pilate, and he … dismisses it. Turns it into a reminder of how powerless they truly are against him, and how he holds all their fates in his hands. Their entire lives, everything they have worked toward, their ambition … he can decide to take it from them with the flick of a wrist, the toss of a coin. Literally. Yet, he’s too smart to leave it to chance. Pilate hedges his bets. As he reminds them, don’t dabble in politics until you know what you’re doing.
His little interaction with the statue of a Roman goddess made me laugh, because it’s all a farce. It’s to remind them how pathetic devotion to a higher power is. Oh, yes, Pilate. We all ought to abandon our religious convictions and be freed from them, like you, a man whose religion is … power. I’ll get on that, because you’re so worthy of emulating. Still, King Herod isn’t much better. Just more scheming and less violent.
That Cornelius saw the arrest and beating of many followers and protectors of the Messiah’s teachings is, I think, a hint toward his future conversion; despite being a Roman, and accustomed to handing out such violence, I don’t think he liked it. Or at least, it arrested his attention. Perhaps he minds because it is so purposeless; it’s one thing to persecute and arrest those who threaten Rome under orders, and another to go to persecuting innocent and merciful followers of a prophet whose primary focus was all about love with zeal. Or perhaps, and this is more likely, hearing the words of the Messiah, and of His followers, is gradually working its way into his heart. Either way, his inevitable conversion will be powerful.
It’s interesting how much power the women do, and do not, wield (though it’s all unlikely, historically); Leah is confident enough in her husband’s position to challenge others who question his authority. Mary Magdalene pushes Peter to abandon traditional mourning conventions and expel his grief in public (and he is brave enough to do it, too). Claudia tries to stick her nose into her husband’s politics and is told, once again, to stay out of it. (Will she ever learn? The amount of times he has shut her down, you’d think she’d have figured out to keep her mouth shut by now.)
I’m used to re-watching these episodes at least once, but this one will get multiple viewings. It’s that good.