I cannot help thinking back to last week, when Pilate told Claudia he was trying to work out how to make Johanna’s death count. He meant, of course, in sending a message – and he did that this week, by showing Claudia her place; but the great irony of it is, her death counted far more than he thought, because it is the breaking point for Cornelius. I wondered, as we progressed from week to week with no indication of weakness in the Roman centurion, how we would reach that point of conversion and it turns out, it’s the simple words of Johanna that does it: “I forgive you.” One gets the sense that Cornelius has been yearning for that for a long time; again and again this season he has abdicated responsibility for his actions under the excuse that he is merely “following orders.” But brutality leaves scars, no matter how justified, and he may be able to wave off Claudia’s accusations, but he can’t deny the power of being forgiven, when the one he is wronging is staring him in the face, offering it. In a sense, this scene encompasses the entire power and message of Christ, because only one who is wrong, and knows it, and suffers from the guilt and shame of it, knows the true power that lies in being forgiven by the person you have wronged. The forgiveness of others is meaningless; and you may or may not be able to forgive yourself, but true forgiveness from the source of the one who has every right to hate you is transformative. Forgiveness has transformed all of them thus far, even Peter, whose early confession was that he merely wanted to say how sorry he was for denying Jesus thrice before “the end.” Jesus returned, Peter was forgiven, and he is a different man now – as Cornelius will become a different man next week. Though how he can justify continuing to work for Pilate, I have no idea. The beautiful element of Joanna’s awful death is that Pilate, in his own evil, is still an instrument used by God to deliver a profound message; the idea that death, for the Kingdom, is not meaningless. Johanna’s death is contrasted with Tabitha’s resurrection for a reason, to remind us that God’s methods are not always our own, but that He can use them to great effect. Tabitha’s resurrection touches everyone who knows her; Johanna’s death touched Cornelius and Claudia. I cried over Tabitha’s resurrection. That was powerful, made all the more so because not much was said… it was just Peter, and Tabitha, and the Holy Spirit in that room. Phillip and the Ethiopian are powerful as well, if only because again, they are playing heavily on God’s sense of “timing” in how they write this series. It is no coincidence that Caiaphas gave the Ethiopian that particular scroll, so that he would be reading it at that particular time. Caiaphas can haggle with James all he likes, but he cannot prevent the spread of the truth throughout Judea and beyond. James has only been in two episodes so far but I like their depiction of him; he gets it, but not entirely; he still believes there is some value in the Temple and that it can be converted over into a celebration of Christ. Sorry, James, you cannot reform from the inside out; you have to overthrow everything and begin anew. Claudia is becoming bolder in her actions and requests, which makes me concerned for her safety. The Greek Orthodox Church canonizes her as a saint, and one legend has it that she became a believer and left her husband. It will be interesting to see if they go that route with her, but regardless, she is taking big chances. And much as I hate violence, in a sense I am glad they are depicting it, because it’s a powerful reminder of the period in which the early church spread. Rome was the most ruthless, brutal dictatorship on earth at the time, having conquered most of the known world, and it did not do so through kindness. As with any godless culture, there was an incredible lack of concern for life in general in Roman society. The Romans flocked to the Gladiator games, where hundreds of thousands of people and exotic animals died for their entertainment. They butchered their way through history and ultimately folded because their bloated system driven to excess collapsed on itself and brought about its own downfall. You can see a similar state of violence in both the zealots and the Temple, in a sense; those who disagree must be killed. To protect the Temple, the disciples of Jesus must die. To protect the Temple, the Romans must die. It’s a festering pit of violence, which makes the peaceful Messiah all the more shocking. The Jews wanted a mortal savior, a warrior that would rise up like David or Sampson and save them from the clutches of their enemies; what they received instead was a Christ whose purpose was to liberate them not from earthly shackles but spiritual ones. He was not what they expected, nor what they wanted, so they killed him… but unlike the hundreds of other men who claimed to be the Messiah, he actually fulfilled the prophecy in its entirety and rose again. You can tell how great the presence of the Lord is in a society by how much it values life, human and otherwise, and throughout history these periods of valuing life have been few and far between. That is one reason Jesus was radical; because into that den of bigotry and hatred and death, He brought love and forgiveness and resurrected life. His followers went on to have a philosophy of, you cannot take my life, but I lay it down before you, that radically transformed the world. And this incredible faith, submission, and forgiveness is notably absent in the modern church. Instead, we bicker between denominations and dither on how much sin we can get away with before we cross an invisible line. Your average person professing to be a Christian differs very little from the heathen on the street, either in philosophy or behavior, and in some cases, is meaner, more judgmental, and less concerned with preserving life than the heathen. If our hearts do not continually cry out in anguish for the loss of life, if we are not different from the rest of the world, if we do not strive to put our own tendencies aside and trust, as the early believers did, that both our lives and death can serve a greater purpose, can we even call ourselves Christians?