Why did the group divide and argue? Because the Pharisees believed in resurrection whereas Sadducees did not. Paul knew his audience and cleverly, even easily, got them to fight amongst themselves.
This bold move by Paul was no random exercise. Paul had been arrested and was in the midst of being beaten. He was at risk of being murdered by the group assembled. But Paul was smarter than his persecutors and figured out a way nonviolently to “divide and conquer,” if only to earn himself a reprieve.
Interestingly the Gospel reading from John reads like a poetic treatise not on division but on oneness. John quotes Jesus as praying about oneness in God: “so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.”
What comes to mind for me is another clever person communicating after being arrested, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King offers a twist to this notion of oneness not as a desire but as a usually unrecognized fact: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Ultimately I believe St. Paul, Jesus, and Dr. King are all expressing similar truths and needs but with different emphases. Inviting our persecutors to argue with each other rather than unite against us, praying for deeper oneness in God and Jesus, and recognizing the inextricable connections among us all (human beings and God included): clever all three.
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