Hey, Festus, They’re Not SuperstitionsFr. Barnabas Powell
In 1972 Stevie Wonder released the song Superstition. The opening guitar licks are still one the the most famous opening lines of any song I remember from my youth. But the lyrics always fascinated me, I guess because I was raised in the rural South and we had lots of superstitions. Things like black cats crossing our path, walking under open ladders, breaking mirrors, and so many others. One that really sticks in my memory was the ability my grandfather had to “talk the fire” out of a burn. In those rural areas where it was tough to get to a doctor, folks would come to my grandfather if they burned themselves. Amazing.
But superstitions are universal. Every culture has them and nowadays we usually look down on superstitions. In the earliest days of the Church, Christian beliefs were considered superstitions.
Look at our lesson today in Acts 25:13-19
IN THOSE DAYS, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. When therefore they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.”
St. Paul continues to defend himself and the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ now before the Roman government that occupies the land. Festus is the new procurator or representative of the Emperor there in Judea, and he has taken over from a Roman named Felix. Paul was arrested about the time Felix was turning over the governorship to Festus and now Festus is meeting the puppet king of Judea, Agrippa. Festus tells Agrippa that the charges against Paul doesn’t warrant any real punishment like death as Paul’s accusers desired. And add to this that Paul is a natural born Roman citizen and that reality complicates the legal matters greatly.
Festus is a Roman pagan so all of the Jews complaints and even Paul’s defense sounds like local superstitions to him.
But what I really want you to see is how the legal system of Paul’s day is working to bring St. Paul to his ultimate destination: appearing before Caesar himself and beginning the growth of the Christian Faith even in Caesar’s household. Paul isn’t concerned about himself as much as he is committed to sharing the Faith of Jesus Christ and he is leveraging all his options to fulfill his calling. His mind is made up. His commitment is singular and focused. He knows the Lord has promised him he would make his case before Caesar and the spread of the Gospel would continue is the most influential city of the whole Empire.
When your vision and calling are clear, the obstacles before you are transformed into opportunities. This kind of dedication flows from three basic realities: First, you know Who you believe. This is bigger than “knowing about.” There are a lot of folks who “know about” Jesus but all too few who commit to an intimacy that makes your calling clear. Next, you know What you value. An eternal perspective sets you free from the distractions of the temporary. And finally, you know Where you’re headed. In the case of a Christian it isn’t so much a destination as a Person. You are meant to be like Christ, and that destination shapes all your priorities, actions, thoughts, and behaviors.
So, Today, are you willing to step back from the conflicts and confusions of the present moment to evaluate your direction? Are you willing to allow the Reality of the Faith to shape your actions and plans? When you get there, you’ll understand why prioritizing liturgy, daily prayer, fasting, and knowing the saints are not just “nice” but absolutely necessary to being Orthodox on Purpose.
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