As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "This man is a Roman citizen." The commander went to Paul and asked, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" "Yes, I am," he answered. Then the commander said, "I had to pay a big price for my citizenship." "But I was born a citizen," Paul replied. Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
Thoughts for Today:It seems authorities confused the identities of two young women -- Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn -- following a devastating collision between a semi-truck and a school van on April 26, 2006, that took the lives of four students and a staff member from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Their blond hair and even some facial features were similar. One of the survivors, Whitney, spent five weeks in a coma while the parents of Laura stood watch by her side, believing she was their daughter. Meanwhile, the parents of Whitney grieved as they buried the girl (Laura) who they believed to be their own daughter.
There were hints, early on that Laura Van Ryn's family missed. While tending to the swollen and bandaged young woman, the family did not recognize the shoes that hospital staff told them belonged to Laura. Her brother noticed her teeth seemed different and, later, her sister was surprised to see her navel was pierced. Their doubts grew when a therapist asked the college student they believed to be Laura to write her name, and they saw what she printed in big letters: W-H-I-T-N-E-Y. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. One girl was joyfully and miraculously reunited with her loved ones (Whitney); while the family of the other was left to belatedly mourn the loss of their precious daughter (Laura).
Lisa Van Ryn (the sister of Laura), wrote these words as she closed out a blog which chronicled Whitney/Laura's recovery: "Our final encouragement to all is this: do not hang on to the things of this world too tightly. Life here is but a vapor and there is an eternity ahead. As you remember the Van Ryn and Cerak families, let us encourage you to look to your neighbors as well. God calls us to love."
In our passage today, Paul suffers from a case of mistaken identity as well. I have often wondered why he waited so long to identify himself as a Roman citizen. Clearly the first act by the Roman soldiers of throwing him into chains was illegal. Yet he waited until just before they were to flog him before he asks the question: "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" These words caused the Roman commander to be greatly alarmed (as he well should have been because the penalty for falsely accusing and/or harming a Roman citizen were quite severe). So how did it happen? The same way Whitney was mistaken for Laura -- being too quick to judge. In other words, looking at surface events and appearance, and then making a decision before all the evidence is in.
Questions to Ponder:Have you ever looked at someone and made up your mind before you ever got to know them? If you later took the time to get to know that person, did you change your mind? I can't tell you how many times that has happened to me. No matter how much we try, we all have a tendency to judge by surface events (hair style, tattoos, dress, language, etc). Is there someone you can think of that you've judged too quickly. Who might deserve a second look?