In the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who joined in this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the council must notify the tribune to bring him down to you, on the pretext that you want to make a more thorough examination of his case. And we are ready to do away with him before he arrives.” Now the son of Paul’s sister heard about the ambush; so he went and gained entrance to the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to report to him.” So he took him, brought him to the tribune, and said, “The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you; he has something to tell you.” The tribune took him by the hand, drew him aside privately, and asked, “What is it that you have to report to me?” He answered, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more thoroughly into his case. But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they kill him. They are ready now and are waiting for your consent.” So the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.”
Just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me! A plot! A plot by righteous men! So righteous they could take an oath to deny themselves food and drink till it was carried out, to prove they had God on their side.
Three times the author reminds us of this oath. Does he want us to be quite sure that these were righteous, religious me, led by their faith, or is he telling us, ironically, that these were fanatics? It’s a fine line between fervour and fanaticism.
These Jews truly believed that Paul was perverting the pure jewish faith. He was leading people astray. He was putting people’s eternal souls at risk. He needed to be stopped. It was just as the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, 30 years earlier, had believed about Jesus.
Is it ever right to act against what we believe to be evil? How far can we go?
Wise and righteous God, teach us, day by day, to follow Jesus on the Way of your Wisdom – your Way of Righteousness. Amen.
The Rev’d Peter Rand is a retired minister and member of Trinity Church, Bedlington.