Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
That thought kept circling my mind throughout this episode, in which alliances quickly arose to defend Pilate’s management of Judea against the Roman governor, Tiberius. I liked that his stance was not, “You are too brutal,” but “you’re not doing enough to crush these people.” Ha, ha. And we thought the relief squad was coming. It’s an interesting direction to take, one entirely consistent with Roman rule (remember, thirty years in the future, Titus crushes Jerusalem for their continued resistances and nearly wipes out the Jewish nation). It almost makes us inclined to want Pilate in charge of Judea, despite his heinous crimes, because … it could be worse. Much, much worse. Just sit and imagine that for a moment. There are worse Romans than Pilate. (Namely, Caligula, but that can wait.) This was the reality Judeans dealt with every day.
I liked this episode because Claudia has been so sidelined until now, relegated to a voice of calm reason and often compassion, but quickly silenced by her husband’s numerous assertions that she not “interfere” in his business. Now, he needs her to, because Tiberius doesn’t like him … but he is not nearly as dismissive of Claudia, who is wielding diplomatic skills and cunning with true grace. While her husband is on the verge of panicking, she is quietly and confidently befriending Tiberius, easing his anxieties, and planting a suspicion in his mind that there is something unsettled about Judea that neither of them can explain. At last, we get to see her in her true role, where a governor’s wife would shine. Roman governors had great responsibilities, but so did their wives… to maintain alliances, to be gracious hostesses, and to work in their husband’s favor at all times. Claudia has that ability and it’s nice to see her using it.
The real Tiberius, who never visited Judea, was something of a reluctant emperor – a soldier who preferred soldiering to diplomacy, and rarely vacated his home in Capri. That sense of weary exhaustion and loathing for diplomatic intrigues that plagued him in real life is present here, in his sense of “SIGH.” And, one cannot blame him, considering his nephew is along. Caligula is one of those fascinatingly horrible historical figures, a young man of perverse tastes, accused of all manner of things in real life, including incest with his sister. (Was any of it true? We will never know, but Hollywood loves to turn him into a sadistic debauching fiend.) Here, he gropes Mary Magdalene (tame enough, but it sent chills up my spine), shows a delight for brutality, and strangles a man for daring to touch him. Oh, and is it just me or is his relationship with Herod’s nephew more than just friends? I cannot quite figure out if Herod’s nephew is complicit, or terrified not to react positively to it. (Or maybe I have a dirty mind, and am reading too much into their “friendship”?)
Mary is taking an enormous risk, working among the nobility, but she was sent to Pilate’s household for a reason; and I feel it is larger than Cornelius, although I loved their scene together. He has a chance to turn over one of Jesus’ followers and … doesn’t. Throughout this season, we have seen him as a man of brutality, but not as someone who enjoys it; “I follow the orders of Rome,” he asserted a few episodes ago, to which Claudia responded that he must consider it fortunate that doing so removes any culpability from him. He is hiding behind his position, to some degree. Part of me thinks both of them are open to salvation, and the message of Jesus, but I’m uncertain enough that I don’t want Mary to risk it. I know that Cornelius will be the first Roman convert, and Christian legend has Claudia as another, but these writers can do as they please.
Philip going to Samaria was a subtle but powerful reminder of the different factions within Judea; “If they know you’re from Jerusalem, they’ll kill you,” he’s warned … more than once. It’s tempting to forget, in our focus on the Jews, that Judea was a melting pot, of many different cultures and beliefs crammed into a small space, and that none of them particularly liked each other. The parable of the Good Samaritan was a remarkable concept in that culture, which is why Jesus used it; not only did He strike out against not loving one another, it was a blow to the bigotry rampant in Judean culture. Much like our modern bigotries against those who are not from our political party or religious denominations, Judea was dominated through prejudice. Jesus was a radical in that sense, because He cared about everyone and even spoke with Gentile women … much to the astonishment of His disciples. A WOMAN, and a GENTILE? REALLY??
This entire episode revolves around bigotry. Tiberius dislikes the Jews (“You bring in a JEW to defend you?”), the Jews hate the Romans, Saul hates the Christians, and Philip is beaten and robbed in Samaria, then threatened with a mob (“If you can’t heal her, they’ll tear you apart”). Dangerous times, and dangerous places. Simon the Sorcerer … amuses me, in a sad way; his story is unfinished, but he believes Philip wields magic … magic that he can have, if he is baptized as a follower of the Messiah. Too bad the Holy Spirit can tell the difference between opportunistic power grabs and true repentance, huh, Simon? Yet, how like human nature, to want something only if it appears to be advantageous! How many leap at the chance to embrace Christ, merely to avoid hell? How many would sign up if they knew doing so was an open invitation to persecution? Saul is mercilessly persecuting anyone who has knowledge of Peter’s whereabouts, yet still, they continue to hide him, and still, others “come to” the disciples for protection and shelter. Their numbers continue to grow, something no one can explain.
Which finally brings me to what I really want to talk about: Peter, once again. I have been so profoundly impressed with their depiction of Peter from the very beginning, and this episode is no exception. What struck me the most was how totally at peace he is, despite everything going on. The streets teem with violence, Saul is ransacking the house above their hiding place, and Peter is calmly reassuring the disciples that it will be well. His assertions over the last few weeks that God, not man, ordains who lives or dies is not rhetoric with Peter; he means it. He trusts that he will die when it is time, and until then, He will remain in Jerusalem and serve. He is at peace. He has no need to strike out against his enemies, or to use violence again Saul to make a point, even when Saul frightens and threatens his daughter.
True belief, would bring that sense of peace, of faith that whatever happens, Jesus is in control. I have a hard time not subsiding into fear on a regular basis; I am, by my very nature, a cautious and fearful person. But the petty problems of this world seem so much less in comparison to what Peter and the others faced in Jerusalem. Financial woes, indecision about what God requires of me, and learning to trust other people is nothing in comparison to the thought that Peter chooses to follow Christ in a culture where the mere knowledge of this, much less preaching it openly, could get him killed. He is at peace with his impending death, though he knows not when it might come. It is one thing, to profess a thing, and another to be so saturated in it, that you are entirely trusting of the Lord.
If this series accomplishes nothing else, I hope it inspires others to want that sense of inner peace and total trust in Christ that I feel pressing upon my heart.