Small Group Tools
Contemporary Comments 2018
Texts: Acts 21; Romans 2:28, 29; Galatians 5:6; Acts 22; Acts 23:1-30; Matthew 22:23-32
Ken Wyniemko spent nine years in prison before DNA proved he wasn’t a rapist. He’s free, but he’s still haunted by the horrors of penitentiary life. “I saw people get stabbed to death," said Wyniemko. “I have times where I can’t sleep at night and the images keep popping up in my head." When Wyniemko’s conviction was overturned in 2003, exonerations were relatively rare. That’s changed, thanks to advances in forensic science and a new willingness by police and prosecutors to take a second look at potentially tainted cases.
Aaron Salter left prison on August 15 after serving 15 years for a murder he didn’t commit. One man’s testimony convicted Salter, who later said he wasn’t sure Salter was the gunman. At Salter’s sentencing, the victim’s sister told the court they convicted the wrong person for the killing. Salter’s attorney, Wolf Mueller, said: “This was a total frame-job. The police knew he didn’t do it.” Police showed the sole witness to the shooting one photo of Salter and asked if he recognized him as the gunman. The normal method is to show a “six pack”—six photographs of possible suspects—to avoid leading the witness. Salter said he isn’t bitter about how his case turned out. “I just want to spend time with my family,” he said.
While it’s impossible to say how many criminal cases result in wrongful convictions, studies suggest there are likely hundreds of thousands of innocent people behind bars. A 2013 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice found 12.6 percent of convictions were innocent defendants. Wyniemko said the numbers are staggering. “Even if it’s just 10 percent, we have 2.3 million people in prison in the United States,” Wyniemko says, “so you're talking about 230,000 innocent people behind bars. If that doesn’t get someone’s attention, something’s wrong with them.”1
Our lesson this week looks at an instance where the apostle Paul did everything just right in the eyes of the Jews. When he returned to Jerusalem he agreed to show that, even though he preached salvation through Jesus Christ, he didn’t reject his Jewish heritage. Against his better judgment, he agreed to sponsor the Nazirite vows of some Jewish believers, including participating in a seven-day purification ritual. The Jerusalem Church leaders expected that local Jews would then accept Paul’s good intentions. It didn’t work.
The Jewish leaders were intent on convicting Paul for what they claimed were his heretical teachings, no matter what. They trumped up some charges that he brought a Gentile into the inner court of the temple. Though he did no such thing, here’s a case where those who yell the loudest win—the shouts of the accusers overruled both common sense and the truth. Paul’s experience here is a good example of how those with nefarious intentions can nullify the truth by labeling it a lie.
~ For Reflection
Connecting: Divide into two groups: brown-eyed people (the ruling class) and non-brown-eyed people (their subjects). For two minutes, brown-eyes make rules to subjugate the others, while non-brown-eyes make plans to overthrow the brown-eyes. Reveal your plans to each other and discuss how it feels to be segregated.
Sharing: Do you think it’s okay for Paul to use the tactic he did in Acts 23:6-9?
1. Certainly—even Jesus counseled us to be “as wise as serpents.”
2. Even though his statement is mostly true, he is being disingenuous when he says he’s being judged because of the resurrection of the dead.
3. Whatever works—the end justifies the means.
4. Paul didn’t use this tactic to gain an advantage; he simply exposed the fraudulent motives of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
5. In this moment, Paul fails to trust in God and resorts to a human political strategy to divide his opponents.
Applying: Draw a scale on the whiteboard from “Ultra Progressive” to “Thoroughly Traditional.” Mark where you think your church appears on the scale. Without giving names, do you have members who tend toward the extreme ends? How can you be more inclusive of the various viewpoints?
Valuing: How do you feel about inclusiveness of opposing viewpoints in the church? Where are you personally on the tolerance scale? Pray and ask God if you need to grow in this area.