Friday, June 9, 2017

Strange Bedfellows

Accepting the allies that help us in times of trouble

Acts of the Apostles 25:13B-21
King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea on a visit to Festus. Since they spent several days there, Festus referred Paul's case to the king, saying, "There is a man here left in custody by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation. I answered them that it was not Roman practice to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge. So when they came together here, I made no delay; the next day I took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy, I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these charges. And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar."

          There’s a curious but also classic phrase that I like a lot; it’s the phrase, “strange bedfellows.” I apologize for the slightly suggestive sense, but it originates in Shakespeare’s play “Tempest.” You know, if you quote Shakespeare or the Scriptures, everything is okay. The Bible or the Bard said it! We read in Tempest Act 2, Scene 2, “Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gabardine; there is no other shelter hereabout: misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” A more modern rendering might be: “misery loves company.” When times are tough – when, “Alas, the storm comes again” – we are open to help from all quarters, and are not so picky about who is friend and who is foe.

           I’ll never forget a line uttered by Gandhi, the great leader of Indian independence. As he was rising in prominence an English clergyman came to offer his help to Gandhi. Bapu (Gandhi’s affectionate nickname) said to him: “When you are fighting in a just cause, people seem to pop up, like you, right out of the pavement. Even when it is dangerous.” And it would be dangerous indeed, right up to Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. But Gandhi was succored by strange bedfellows from all over the world, even from the British who had colonized India.

            In the first reading today, St. Paul also encounters an unlikely ally – a strange bedfellow – in King Agrippa. In Acts chapters 25 and 26, Paul makes his case before Agrippa and almost converts this Jewish monarch to Christianity. This the third time Paul recounts the extraordinary events on the road to Damascus in Acts.  After listening to Paul’s conversion story, Agrippa says to Paul, “You would soon persuade me to play the Christian.” And in private Agrippa adds: “This man (meaning Paul) is doing nothing at all that deserves death or imprisonment.” In other words, God sent a sympathetic if not strange bedfellow to Paul in his hour of need, when “Alas, the storm is come again!” Just like Gandhi said, people were popping up right out of the pavement to help Paul.
Today, try to be a little more open to strange bedfellows who may help you when, “Alas the storm is come again!” Sometimes we turn away from people simply because we see the color of their skin, or they speak with an accent (even priests), or because of where they live (the wrong side of the tracks), or maybe even their ethnic origin (they’re German or Irish or Italian), or maybe because someone is an undocumented alien here in the United States. We can write such people off without much thought.

          My parents have a Hispanic man who helps them do yard-work and some minor maintenance around the house. When they try to pay him, he turns them down. They have to force him to accept some money. His name is Agrippa, but do you know what my parents prefer to call him? They have dubbed him, “King Agrippa,” and they love him like family. It doesn’t matter to my parents if he’s hispanic or speaks broken English or has legal status or anything else external. They see his heart, and his heart is huge. That’s what St. Paul saw in the original King Agrippa, and that’s what he loved about him.

         My friends, don’t wait for the storm to come again to make you see who might be a strange bedfellow for you. Look below the surface and see the huge heart that beats beneath in every person, and love them. After all, the Bible and the Bard said so.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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