Going with Plan B

You goofed up big time. It was just a teeny-weeny little oversight on your part — but it could have been disastrous. Lucky for you it didn’t turn out that way.

You dodged a bullet, but through no particular skill or talent of your own. If others hadn’t spoken up and warned you… well, better not to think about that.

Now what? You still have a job to do, and Plan A didn’t work out. In fact, you really hope your boss doesn’t find out about that little snafu; it could cost you your job. But hey, anyone can make a mistake, right? Put the past behind you and move on to Plan B. 

Then Plan B goes belly up, too. Time to engage in a bit of damage control.

Even with all the brutality and corruption of the Roman Empire, we can still have a little empathy for middle management. They’re responsible for leading the troops and keeping people on task. They’re often the ones with some authority who are closest to the action. But with that power comes responsibility; the severest of discipline can come at any time from higher up the chain of command.

If these middle managers lose their heads, they might… well, lose their heads. 

. . .

Poor Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune with the responsibility of keeping order in the Jerusalem temple. It could be a particularly demanding job during festivals when the city was swarming with pilgrims. His boss, Governor Felix, was a famously brutal man. The tribune could not afford a slip-up with him.

It certainly wasn’t the tribune’s fault that a riot broke out in the temple. His job was to stop it, and to find out what was going on. Who was this enigmatic man named Paul that the mob wanted to beat to death? What had he done? Lysias had his own ideas, but these quickly proved to be wrong. So he tried to ask the angry mob what was happening — and got nowhere.

Then he decided to take the apostle into the Roman barracks for his own interrogation. He had the centurion prepare Paul for the customary flogging — and then discovered that his prisoner was a Roman citizen. Lysias, in essence, was violating Paul’s civil rights, and there would be consequences if Felix ever found out.

Yikes. Scratch that plan. It was time to try something else, as Luke describes:

Since he wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. He brought Paul down and had him stand before them. (Acts 22:30, NRSV)

Wait: a Roman tribune ordered the Sanhedrin to meet? Could he do that? Apparently so. Felix was in Caesarea; Lysias was his eyes and ears in Jerusalem. If he told the council to meet, they met. Perhaps begrudgingly, perhaps “unofficially” in their eyes, but they met.

After the near debacle of the day before, the tribune released Paul from custody in order to stand before the Sanhedrin. That was plan B (or perhaps C, if you count the failed interview with the mob) — get the Jewish ruling council to figure it out and report back to him.

A shrewd move, politically. The tribune may well have patted himself on the back.

That is, until that plan went belly up, too, as we shall see.