When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Acts 23:6-7 (NRSV)
One of the themes I have noticed in epic literature over the years is that evil tends to implode from within. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin were able to escape from their captors in large part because of the infighting between the orcs Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. Likewise, the reason Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol was because all of the orcs killed each other. Factions of hatred have a hard time uniting.
I was reminded of this as I read today’s chapter. The Jewish council had two main factions who disagreed on theology and who seemed to hate one another more than they hated Paul and the followers of Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death or in the spiritual realm while the Pharisees did. Paul, seizing on the opportunity to stir up the on-going debate between the two factions, sided loudly with the Pharisees and got the two factions arguing (orc-like). The Pharisees were suddenly defending Paul as an ally and the Romans were forced to rescue him from the ensuing tumult.
Today, I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others, even our enemies, has powerful consequences far beyond the spiritual health of our own souls. The power of love to unite is one of the most powerful weapons we have against evil.
Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!”
This divided the council—the Pharisees against the Sadducees— for the Sadducees say there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, but the Pharisees believe in all of these. So there was a great uproar. Acts 23:6-9a (NLT)
One of the tasks of my job is to provide one-on-one call coaching to my client’s employees. Tasked with helping individuals improve their customer service skills on the phone, I often find myself alone in a room with people who don’t want to be there and certainly don’t want to be coached. So, over the past twenty years I’ve learned a host of basic tricks used by people to avoid confronting the issues at hand such as the silent treatment or the happy distraction.
I find it ironic and a bit humorous that there is a reference to Paul’s sister in today’s chapter, for I believe that many of the tactics we learn to divert attention away from the subject of our own crime and punishment are learned as children with our parents. Paul played the artful dodge well, like a child who knows that if they can get his parents conflicting about how to render verdict on the child’s infraction, that child often slips through the cracks of the ensuing argument unscathed.
By raising the contentious issue of resurrection with the council, Paul effectively turned the spotlight off of himself and onto a religious debate that would keep the council arguing about something other than himself and would actually get a large part of the council to defend him.
Sometimes the important thing is not just in what we communicate but how and when we communicate it.