SAME OLD STORY
“The next day, determined to get to the root of the trouble and to know for sure what was behind the Jewish accusation, the captain released Paul and ordered a meeting of the high priests and the High Council to see what they could make of it. Paul was led in and took his place before them.
“Paul surveyed the members of the council with a steady gaze, and then said his piece. ‘Friends, I have lived with a clear conscience before God all my life, up to this very moment.’ That set the chief priest Ananias off. He ordered the aides to slap Paul in the face. Paul shot back, ‘God will slap you down! What a fake you are! You sit there and judge me by the Law and then break the Law by ordering me slapped around!'” Acts 22:30-23:3 (The Message).
Paul was in the same position as his Master had been some three decades before, standing before the Jewish Sanhedrin to answer for his life. Unlike Jesus, he at least had the protection of the Roman government as a Roman citizen.
It was obvious that the men of the Sanhedrin were tarred with the same brush as the religious zealots they represented. He had hardly opened his mouth to speak before the high priest, as the highest religious authority in the country, began his physical abuse of Paul. It seems that he was exactly the same as his predecessor, Caiaphas, unreasonable and a bully. He was not prepared to give Paul a fair hearing to satisfy the captain. He was using his position to vent his own spleen on him.
The church had begun in Jerusalem and flourished for more than thirty years in spite of the Sanhedrin’s efforts to stamp it out. Caiaphas had led the charge against Jesus, fully believing that His death would put an end to the movement that was growing up around Him, but instead showing up the character of the men to whom the people looked for spiritual guidance.
Paul had been their most successful partner in this enterprise. He was a Pharisee like many of them, fanatically zealous for the Law they were supposedly upholding. Unfortunately for them, he had turned traitor and was just as zealously proclaiming the very One he had been opposing. It was a golden opportunity to get rid of him and Ananias lost no time in demonstrating his intention. Humiliate him first and then kill him!
Jesus had taught His disciples not to be doormats to anyone. It’s one thing to have an attitude of meekness, choosing to submit to authority even if you don’t like it, but it’s another thing to submit to bullying just because you are a Christian. ‘Turn the other cheek’, Jesus said. What does that mean?
We think it means, ‘Accept abuse because you are a believer,’ but in the culture of Jesus’ day, to be slapped on the right cheek was an insult because the hitter would have to use his left hand which was considered “unclean” because the left had was used for toilet purposes. To offer the other cheek meant that you were insisting that you were an equal and should be treated with dignity.
Was Paul being rude or disrespectful? I don’t think so. Jesus protested when He was slapped in the face during His trial. If the trial was intended to find out what lay behind Paul’s arrest, then the way to find out was to give him an opportunity to speak for himself, not to use him as an object of contempt to be abused at will.
What does this incident say to us? It clearly teaches us that everyone has the right to be treated with human dignity no matter who they are. Colour, culture, social standing, financial position, language or even accent does not disqualify anyone from being treated fairly because everyone has been created in the image of God.