Being a servant by being yourself—courageously! (part 2)

Last week, I reflected on a young Israeli slave girl, and the amazing difference in history she made just by being herself—courageously. Today, I want to reflect on a passage that seems to be one of those almost unknown narratives: the story of a young boy who changed history by quickly deciding to be courageous in the moment.

In Acts 23:12-22, we are told of another of those myriads of “unnamed people” who change history in the way they serve God. Most of them, of course, do not appear in the Bible. They will only appear when God opens his great “book of life” and we see history as it really unfolded. But the story of this particular young man did make it into Luke’s history of the early church.

The boy, Paul’s unnamed nephew, hears of a plot by some very committed religious people who are determined to end Paul’s ministry and life. Remember that they are acting the same zeal, commitment, and values that Paul had demonstrated a few years earlier when he attempted to destroy the lives of many of the followers of Jesus (Acts 7-8).

For reasons that Luke chooses not to explain, but which we will reflect on in a moment, Paul’s sister’s boy chooses to tell Paul who is in jail—not his mother or father—about the plot. Here we encounter the first of several obstacles the young man faces as he decides what to do: He has to muster the courage to go visit someone in jail whom others would like to kill. Picture in modern times a youth deciding to openly visit Martin Luther King in American jails, or Gandhi in English jails, or Natan Scharansky when he was in Russian Siberia. Gutsy stuff.

Paul’s response to his nephew’s news pushes the kid even further. He calls a centurion in charge of prisons—not a group exactly known for their tender loving care—and tells the boy to go with him to see the crusty old Roman commander over all of the prison guard. Talk about being sent to the principal’s office! Whatever fears walking into this unknown world may have raised in this young man, he goes. Then he tells his story to the tough old commander who is in charge of Paul’s imprisonment.

The commander, who has no intention of having to answer to Caesar for losing a prisoner who is a Roman Citizen, quickly devises a plan to save Paul’s life without having a blood bath. But for this to work, the young man is instructed that he must not tell anyone of what he has heard or of what he has just done. Can you imagine being a young teen and becoming involved in the most dangerous and exciting event of your life, and then having to not say a word to anyone? Yet, the young man does just that.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all, however, is the one that is implicit rather than explicit in this text. The most likely scenario for why the young man does not go to his family and is instructed not to tell his parents is that his father (maybe his mother too) is involved in the plot to kill Paul. How else could this young man have heard the plot, unless it was taking shape in his own home or in the home of a family friend? There is every reason to suppose that Paul’s sister was married into the same circles that Paul had run in earlier in his life.  This is the most likely reason the young man goes directly to Paul with what he has overheard rather than involving his parents.

Did this unnamed young man change history? As far as we can tell, he not only saved Paul’s life, but made it possible for most of Paul’s letters that are in our New Testaments to be written. He also made it possible for Paul to live long enough to found many of the churches that became the churches from which the good news of Jesus spread out toward many of our forefathers and foremothers in the faith.

Sometimes, we can serve God just by being ourselves—courageously! And, I am quite sure God never forgets your name when you do so, even if the rest of the human race does.

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