Acts of the Apostles: Week #9

sailing-for-romeChapters 26-27:13 by Sister Mary Core, OSB

In the presence of Jewish and Gentile (Herod Agrippa and Porcius Festus) authority, Paul is given permission to make his defense. He begins by acknowledging Agrippa’s familiarity with Jewish law and customs and then affirms his own Pharisaic belief in the resurrection of the dead.  

For a 3rd time we hear the story of Paul’s conversion. However, this account is much different than the previous 2. Here Paul doesn’t mention his own blindness, but rather that Jesus sent him to the Gentiles “to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light…” This account is intended not so much to focus on the conversion experience, as on the reason for the conversion: that the Gentiles might receive the Good News.

Festus, struggling to understand what Paul has said, suddenly interrupts and declares Paul “insane as a result of too much learning.” Paul refutes the remark, asking Agrippa to verify his statements, based on the king’s own knowledge of Jewish prophesy.

Agrippa, avoiding an answer, cynically responds that Paul is attempting to convert him to Christianity. Paul affirms Agrippa’s statement and even wishes Christianity for everyone present. Agrippa, Bernice and Festus all rise and leave declaring Paul has done nothing to deserve death, but because Paul has appealed to Caesar, Festus determines to put him on a ship bound for Italy.

Luke has paralleled the arrest and trial of Paul with that of Jesus. Like Jesus (Luke 23:4, 14, and 22), Paul is 3 times found innocent, twice by Roman authority and once by the Jewish King. And, like Jesus, Paul is fulfilling the “Servant Israel’s” call to be a light to the nations (Is. 49:6).

In chapter 27 the story is once more told from the “we” perspective, again indicating the presence of Luke.

As Paul now begins his trip to Rome, Luke introduces us to the centurion, Julius, in charge of Paul. Naming the centurion, identifying him from the Cohort Augusta, and telling of the favors Julius allows Paul, indicates Paul’s importance and his ability to “win over” and befriend others .

Strong headwinds affect the course of the ship. Making it to Myra, they change ships. High winds force them to sail south to Crete, rather than a straight course west. Finally they reach the port at Fair Havens on the southern side of Crete.

The sailing has become dangerous, “because the time of the fast had already gone by.” The fast refers to the Jewish Day of Atonement, which always occurs in late September or early October. Since the day had “already gone by” it was easily into October and turbulent fall and winter weather was beginning to affect sea travel.

As Paul warns those in charge about the dangers of continuing the voyage, we can see that Luke wishes to poise Paul as the “hero,” guided by the Spirit, who will bring salvation to all on board. As a prisoner, Paul would most likely have been in chains below deck, with little opportunity to give advice to the centurion, the ship’s owner or its pilot. Yet, that is what he does.

Julius, probably wanting to get to Rome before winter and no doubt questioning the sailing knowledge of a Tent-maker, listens to the advice of the ship’s pilot and owner who plan to sail for Phoenix, – a much better port for wintering than Fair Havens.

Upon Reflection …

  • Each of the 3 conversion accounts in Acts has a slightly different focus. Does this mean the story isn’t true? Or is Luke making a different point in each case? If so, what is the point in each story? Have you ever used the same story to make a different point?
  • Luke has Paul very intent on going to Rome. Indeed, if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, he might have been set free. What is the significance of this focus on Rome? Have you ever felt so certain of something that no amount of persuasion or dissuasion would make you change your mind? What made you so sure you were right?
  • The “hero” of the sea voyage is certainly Paul. Yet, he is a prisoner, a Jew, a Tent-maker, and probably knows little of sailing. What does this tell us about judging others? About the power of God at work? About doing God’s will even when it seems to be leading to a bad end?

For Closer Study …

Agrippa was the great-grandson of Herod the Great, who ruled in Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus. What can you find out about the family of the Herods and their rule as Jewish Kings?

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