I have three quick questions: When was the last time someone got you angry, really hot under the collar? Or when was the last time a situation nearly got the best of you—or did it get the best of you—and why do you think this happened? And lastly: Were your reactions justified? If our readings today are about anything, I think it is safe to assume that they are about how we tend to react to others.
Yesterday, we looked at Eliphaz’s second round of advice to his friend Job. Of course, his delivery was very questionable: a bit judgey and condescending, but, if you recall, I did say that it wasn’t entirely devoid of merit, since Eliphaz could have simply walked away after the first round of advice fell on deaf ears: No. He sticks with it—perhaps because he really wants what is best for Job; we’ve got to wait until Job chapter 32 to learn that this is quite possibly true, since Elihu—the youngster of the bunch—is mad at Eliphaz because he doesn’t condemn Job. He’s also made at Job for thinking that he is right and not God—but I’m sure you’ll hear more on this later.
Chapter 16 marks Job’s fourth reply and his rebuttal of Eliphaz’s second speech. We don’t have to stretch the imagination much to ascertain how Job takes this advice—as indicated by his choice of words: “troublesome comforters,” windy words,” “What sickness makes you rattle on?” (3) and “My friends it is who wrong me.” (20) They are “impious” and “wicked”—and these are his friend. And then Job lashes out at God, who has “given [Job] over…set [him] up as a target…pierces his side without mercy,” etc. Chapter 16 leaves little doubt how Job receives this word and explains Elihu’s later anger.
Of course, what Job faces is in a way unique. All that had led up to this chapter had occurred for a specific reason—and carried a cosmic, universal impact—like Adam and Eve making their fateful decision. Job is a story about blessing, salvation, and the nature of God and of all flesh. In Acts 21-23, on the other hand, we get to see the real-world effects of overreaction: violence, uncertainty, pain, and confusion. Just as in Philippi, Paul’s presence causes such a negative reaction that the Roman authority must to respond. We also discover in today’s reading that anyone—and anything—can contribute to the chaos. One week after his arrival in Jerusalem, “Jews from the province of Asia” discover that Paul is in the city. His mere presence causes them to stir up a mob against him, a mob that would have surely killed him if it were not for the Romans. Again in chapter 22, the mob and its leaders react violently when Paul includes the Gentiles in God’s family. In response to this and to his credit, Claudius Lysias, the cohort’s commander, is able to accomplish what his peers in Philippi could not: He doesn’t overreact. Well, to be fair, he almost does at the end of chapter 22 when he sends Paul off for a pre-interrogation, Roman beating; but after reversing this decision the Roman commander seems to take a breath before making any subsequent decision—weighing Paul’s rights as a Roman against maintaining order against any dissatisfaction among the religious elites and the people.
In chapter 21, he doesn’t simply react to the mob. Sure, he arrests Paul, but before making an example of the apostle, he seeks to understand the cause of the fuss. In the next chapter the commander then tries to defuse any future problem by giving Paul and the others a chance to work it out. Of course, when this goes sideways, he almost overreacts. Chapter 23 has Claudius Lysias essentially trying one more time to get to the bottom of things and to smooth this situation out: Paul’s deflection of bringing up the resurrection and causing the Sanhedrin to fall into chaos didn’t help matters; in fact, it made them worse, because from this is hatched the plot to kill the apostle. Lysias’ final decision to transfer Paul out of the city to Caesarea follows this choice to listen to a child as opposed to do the leaders of the people.
Our lives today are hemmed in on all sides by trouble, opposing beliefs, and even those who would seek to do us harm. No matter our position, we are encouraged to take offense and to act as the aggrieve in any confrontation—even if we’re the ones who have instigated it. In any case, our reaction to others will invariable impact more lives than just our own, and our reaction will reflect upon others, too. It’s funny how Claudius Lysias appears to be Luke’s example to any Christian who wants to know how deal with others in our topsy-turvy world.