Leavening the Lump . . . .
From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 15, Year 1 (Pentecost 12, 2015)
Acts 24:22 ~ 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.”
Paul, a Roman citizen demanding his rights, is brought before Felix the governor after being accused of starting a riot in the Jerusalem Temple. The Jewish authorities lay out their case; Paul makes his defense; the governor postpones judgment. In recording the scene, Luke (the author of Acts) makes this parenthetical remark which is easily overlooked, that Felix “was rather well informed about the Way,” i.e., about the claim of some Jews (and now a few Gentiles) that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, and the way of life lived in consequence of that belief.
Antonius Felix, the procurator of Judaea, a Greek freedman, divorced and remarried to a divorced woman, known for cruelty and licentiousness, more than willing to accept bribes and look the other way, under whose governorship the province experienced a significant increase in criminal activity, “was rather well informed about the Way.” How could that be?
Felix was governor of Judaea for only six or seven year, 52-58 AD, about twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although the Christian faith had spread (this trial takes place about six years after Paul’s trip to Athens, for example), it was still a small community, so how is it that the Roman governor, a pagan from the imperial city itself, in office and in the province only a few years, is “well informed about the Way”?
I suggest there’s only one way for this to be true: early Christians talked about their faith, shared their story with others, and spread the gospel in their daily lives. I’m not suggesting that any member of the church actually had spoken directly to Felix, but rather that (if I may use one of Jesus’ own metaphors) like yeast in a lump of dough knowledge of the Christian story spread through the community as neighbor talked to neighbor, Jew talked with Gentile, Palestinian native spoke to Roman occupier, and so it goes.
Some 2,000 years later, we live in a society where many claim to be “rather well informed about the way” but few are. There is a lot of talking about Christianity, but precious little of that talk is accurate and few who talk it actually live it. It may be that Antonius Felix was rather better informed about the Way than are many modern Christians and certainly better than the “nones” among us.
There is only one remedy for this: yet again, the yeast must leaven the lump.