Felix: Acts 24 with poem by Alice Cary, The Noble Life
Psalm 30, Genesis 26, Isaiah 27:2-13, Acts 24
Daily Text: Acts 24
Paul before Felix at Caesarea
Five days later the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported their case against Paul to the governor. When Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:
‘Your Excellency, because of you we have long enjoyed peace, and reforms have been made for this people because of your foresight. We welcome this in every way and everywhere with utmost gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you to hear us briefly with your customary graciousness. We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn from him concerning everything of which we accuse him.’
The Jews also joined in the charge by asserting that all this was true.
Paul’s Defence before Felix
When the governor motioned to him to speak, Paul replied:
‘I cheerfully make my defence, knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation. As you can find out, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city. Neither can they prove to you the charge that they now bring against me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience towards God and all people. Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices. While I was doing this, they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance. But there were some Jews from Asia—they ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. Or let these men here tell what crime they had found when I stood before the council, unless it was this one sentence that I called out while standing before them, “It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.” ’
But Felix, who was rather well informed about the Way, adjourned the hearing with the comment, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.’ Then he ordered the centurion to keep him in custody, but to let him have some liberty and not to prevent any of his friends from taking care of his needs.
Paul Held in Custody
Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgement, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.’ At the same time he hoped that money would be given to him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him.
After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favour, Felix left Paul in prison.
Acts 24 is a courtroom scene. There are witnesses, a lawyer for the prosecution, a defendant, and a judge. Everything is present except the will to make a judgement. It becomes obvious that there is no case against Paul, but there are high-ranking people against him. Felix’ own weakness is really what is on trial here. And beyond the weakness, his venality and political maneuvering become very apparent [cf. 549:473-4]. It is amazing how dispiriting this common failure in the public realm is upon those being harmed. Truth is often sacrificed on the altar of expediency, and lies learn to be told while we are quite young, and yet everyone about whom a lie is told reacts with disbelief. To hear a parent lie, or a child, is to feel betrayed. Truth is so fundamental to life and yet so often absent. Peculiar how truth is associated with God.
In the Roman system of justice truth is presupposed, and in the course of Felix’ hearing out it comes. Obviously, he recognizes the truth, but acknowledging it and releasing Paul is not in his self-interest as he sees it. So Paul is imprisoned and those perjuring themselves leave without penalty.
The Noble Life
Alice Cary, 1820-1871
True worth is in being, not seeming;
In doing each day that goes by
Some little good—not in the dreaming
Of great things to do by-and-by.
For whatever men say in blindness,
And spite of the fancies of youth,
There’s nothing so kingly as kindness,
And nothing so royal as truth.
We get back our mete as we measure;
We cannot do wrong and feel right;
Nor can we give pain and gain pleasure,
For justice avenges each slight.
The air for the wing of the sparrow,
The bush for the robin and wren,
But always the path that is narrow
And strait for the children of men.