God has a sense of humor. Not only did he create wombats, and send Paul to preach to the Gentiles, but He also has keenly orchestrated a situation in my life not so different from what the believers face in Jerusalem. They have a radical teacher in their midst, Paul, who believes Christ fulfilled all the prophecies and makes everything to do with the temple unnecessary. It is now just a pile of stones to him, and he cannot understand how the others cannot see it, or why Simon the Zealot is still clinging to the temple rituals, or why the others want to take part in the ritual festivals and feast days. The old is dead, he insists; the new has come.
But it can be hard to let go of the old, or to accept fully that it is fulfilled. I understand them. I’m there. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of N.T. Wright, whose views are fundamentally different from American theology, largely inspired by Scofield’s interpretation of scripture. Much of what is taught inside the American Christian church is not, in fact, scriptural and has its roots in tradition instead. On the one hand, what Wright is saying makes sense to me, but on the other, it means divorcing entirely a lot of beliefs that I grew up on, that were a bedrock for my faith. I feel like they are crumbling bit by bit, and letting go of them entirely is scary, because I’m so … used to thinking that way.
It is so easy to look at this portrayal of the early church and ask, “Why can’t you let go? The temple is the old religion; this is the new!” like Paul is doing. But, what if it were you? What if you were faced with a truth that rendered all your old traditions, beliefs, and practices inert? How easily would you let go of them? How fearful would you be, that in embracing this new belief system, you were not angering the wrathful God of the Israelites? Paul lacks fear about that, and that in and of itself is remarkable, but … what about you? Peter? Simon? John? Barnabas? How do you completely divorce an old way of life in favor of a radical new belief system? It isn’t easy. It’s hard. It’s scary. It’s painful. But so much about this series has mirrored my own experiences, coinciding with what’s unfolding on screen, that it’s downright uncanny.
I am finding the switch in Caiaphas’ methods interesting; he is shifting more into his usual role of appeasement and compromise and further away from the violence that has done no good. Yet, I do not trust him and if I were the disciples, I would go nowhere near the synagogue, permission or not. It is also interesting to see his wife, Leah, switch alliances… a few episodes ago she was opposed to the zealots and now she finds them a useful tool in the fight against Rome. It is also interesting how the female rebel did not believe in harming Paul until she heard him preach against the temple; a reminder of what the zealots were all about, and what the temple meant to them. It was a symbol of Jerusalem in their mind, and as all fallen, sinful humans are wont to do, they tried to defend it through bloodshed.
Everyone is cruel in this world, except the followers of Jesus. It’s an ugly reminder of the worst of human nature. A few, like Claudia, are merciful, but even she is tinged with Roman authority; “It should have been me whipped,” Mary Magdalene whimpers, after Tabitha is badly beaten, and without missing a breath, Claudia snaps back, “Yes, it should have.” Implication: YOU are the instigator of this, YOU knew the risks, YOU put us all in danger. I get their eagerness to share the truth, but a little caution when working in the household of a psychopath would not go amiss. I can’t help remembering when Claudia implied that the man she married was not the man he is now, and wondering if governing Judea has brought out a stronger streak of brutality in Pilate. Was she sincere, and was he different, or did she merely not know the extent of his cruelty when they first arrived, since he’d had lesser chances to wield it?
Power corrupts. We have seen this time and again, woven throughout history, in abuses found in all forms of power, from lords and masters to governors and generals. It isn’t surprising, because in a sense, it’s an ultimate form of selfishness; the desire to have one’s own way in all things, regardless of whom it hurts. Once power plays become involved, the institution ceases to be useful and becomes corrupt. It happened in Rome, it happened in the synagogue, it happens in businesses, and political offices, and churches all the time. The instant people dynamics become involved, it becomes more about personal pride than serving a greater cause. It becomes about defending one’s position, with force if necessary; crushing those of opposing mindsets or beliefs, in order to maintain an overly-bloated sense of pride. Why was Tabitha beaten? Because she “shamed” Pilate, by daring to believe something he does not “condone” in his household.
I keep searching for signs of anything in Cornelius and I am not seeing it. Either he masks it well, or they have major work to do before his conversion in the finale. He’s still a brutal Roman centurion who just follows orders. I do love James, though. He seems such a quiet, powerful voice of reason amid the fear that permeates Jerusalem. And I actually felt quite sad for Paul, as he set off alone, all but banished (in love, naturally) so that the remaining disciples are less persecuted due to his radical beliefs (abandon your temple!). It must be hard to be a lone voice, crying out into the wilderness. I enjoyed the introduction of the Ethiopian, and am intrigued that he is in league with the zealots, but considering what he witnessed in Pilate’s household, I might be too.
Lastly, although I’m fairly confident it will come to nothing… to be honest, I’m afraid for Claudia. She’s walking a fine line.