17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.”18 So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”19 The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”20 He said: “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him.21 Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him….”Acts 23:17-21 (NIV)
I think one of the most detrimental and dangerous challenges to authentic discipleship is what Luke describes here as “pretext.” The Jews were making a show of being fair and open-minded, but they had already decided to kill Paul.
“Pretext” comes from the 14th century Latin praetextere which literally means “to weave in front”…and indicates hiding and deception – especially of motives. Think of a duck blind: hiding behind reeds and branches, the sound of a duck call, cute little decoys floating around, all in the hopes to lure some unsuspecting duck, then BOOM!
In Jerusalem, of course, the situation was quite sinister. Ours, not so much. We don’t gossip, we seek information so we can “pray”, or we tell information so others can “pray.” We put on the “everything’s great” act when we walk into church just to take it off when we leave. We sometimes justify the craziest, unbiblical things with the “God told me to” pretext. Such pretext may keep us looking spiritual and in good graces with the church, but it doesn’t authentically connect us to one another.
Worse is when pretext is used with God…we read the Bible, pray, give in the offering to be seen by others, but miss the relational side of these things God wants for us. We’ve already determined what the Bible says, what we’re going to do, or what we’re going to give or not give. We tell God we’ll do whatever he tells us…but we won’t really. Or, as I mentioned, we blame him for things that are our doing. We’re a lot like the rich young man in the Bible. We tell Jesus how holy we are, but when he asks us to do something difficult, we leave sad.
When Jesus met the disciple Nathaniel for the first time he said: 47 T…“Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.” (John 1:47, HCSB). I love that. Israel, formerly known as Jacob, was a liar (that’s what the name Jacob means). Jesus says: Look – Nathaniel is the son of a liar who is himself completely honest. It caught Jesus’ attention.
Honesty, integrity, truthfulness…they still catch Jesus’ attention.