22:25 But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” 27 The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.” 29 Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.
A two tier system. Justice for some but not for all. To be Roman was to be respected and given the benefit of the doubt. It was a citizenship that was highly sought after. The commander admitted it cost him a lot of money (likely bribe money) to acquire his. Paul was born a Roman citizen.
Basically a Roman citizen had all the rights we enjoy in the west with some variations. Notably a Roman who committed a crime worthy of death could choose exile instead. A Roman citizen who chose death could not be killed on a cross. A Roman citizen could not be beaten or whipped. They had the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal the outcome in a higher court if they so chose.
So elevated was the status of a Roman citizen compared to everyone else that the commander was actually afraid when he discovered he had assumed he was not Roman and had been treating him like a 2nd class citizen.
There has been a lot of talk lately about white privilege. The phenomenon is real but not codified. I was recently in Nevada and noticed it was more pronounced there. I took a city bus and as a well-dressed white man as soon as I got on a person who was not white jumped up and offered me their seat, calling me sir. I was raised that a woman gets a seat before a man so I politely declined. The seat remained empty and we both stood. On the wall of the bus was the full law change which put an end to segregation on city buses in the south way back in 1956. Under the law was information on what to do if you experienced discrimination. 60 years later the desegregation laws are still plastered on the walls of public transit. For me that is just bizarre. That was by far not the only time I experienced preferential treatment from strangers simply for being a white man.
The major difference between white privilege in America and Roman citizenship in Paul's day is that it is not codified by law. Technically all are equal. I can tell you as a Canadian the balance is more real in Canada although we are certainly not free of prejudice either.
The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence starts as follows: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
As it turned out some men were just created more equal than others... :(
Our incident with Paul being suddenly treated much differently and much better underscores an age old problem. Men are not equal. In Paul's case it was not colour. In my growing up years it was language that divided people. Colour, language, citizenship, religion, gender, sexual orientation, the ways we divide ourselves and class some above others seems to know no limits.
What is most disturbing to me in our time is that we were making forward progress but now seem to be going backwards again. Intolerance of all kinds is on the rise and most disturbing is that it's being modeled from some of the highest positions of leadership. How can the leader of a nation that declares all men are created equal be proposing laws and changes that would create a society where equality would take major steps backwards?
The Bible is a book about real people living real lives in the real world. Their issues shed light on our issues. Prejudice and the struggle to coexist are not new struggles. Rome was a Republic. It became an empire. It was ruled in the beginning by the people. In the end it was ruled by the Caesars. The evidence is mounting that America is trending in the same direction. The melting pot is becoming a boiling pot. Do we really want a two or three or four tiered society? Should the nation built on Christian principles be foremost in pushing it's own society backwards?
If you don't want to be hated, don't hate. If you want your political views to be respected, respect the views of others. If you want to effect change do it peacefully and respectfully. If you want to be loved and treated as an equal, love your enemies and treat them better than they deserve.
Paul was able to pull his citizenship card and evade a beating. Jesus created every citizen on this planet yet received no such preferential treatment. There was no "white privilege" for Jesus.
How did He react to the abuse? "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
Please consider the last part of Jesus' prayer. He acknowledged their lack of knowledge. He recognized their behaviour was rooted in a lack of understanding on their part. He was not angry at them because He knew their behaviour was rooted in brokenness. We wouldn't be angry if a man with no legs did not come running to our rescue. Some people are amputated on the inside. Getting angry at them won't help.
If we are serious about wanting a better world, we are going to have to love our enemies. There is no other way.
Love Wins. Hate kills.