Pope Benedict and Maxwell Friend

They think they've found the tomb of the apostle Paul. It's been unearthed from beneath the altar of Rome's second-largest basilica, St. Paul's Outside the Walls Basilica. It dates from 390 CE or before. Tradition has it that Paul was beheaded during 1rst century persecution of Christians.

Hence, at the end of "Prayer Week for Christian Unity," Pope Benedict and three other churchmen, a riot of luxuriant color amidst matching surroundings, are seen peering over the tomb. Yet if Paul were there in death as he had been in life (the tomb hasn't yet been opened) he would seem out of place. His clothing would be course and drab. His hands would be used calloused and blistered.

It's hard to think otherwise based on what the New Testament tells us of Paul's life. When he traveled, as he did on three missionary tours, he roughed it.

Are they ministers of Christ? I reply [with regard to local "luminaries," softies, who were trying to make themselves prominent in the Corinthian congregation] like a madman, I am more outstandingly one: in labors more plentifully, in prisons more plentifully, in blows to an excess, in near-deaths often. By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep; in journeys often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from highwaymen, in dangers from [my own] race, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, in abstinence from food many times, in cold and nakedness.     2 Corinthians 11:23-27

While on the road, he worked to support himself.

After these things he departed from Athens and came to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus who had recently come from Italy, and Priscilla his wife, because of the fact that Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. So he went to them and on account of being of the same trade he stayed at their home, and they worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. However, he would give a talk in the synagogue every sabbath and would persuade Jews and Greeks.     Acts 18:1-4

Though, as a full time minister, he might reasonably have lived off his ministry, he did not do so, so as not to abuse his authority.

If we have sown spiritual things to you, is it something great if we shall reap things for the flesh from you? If other men partake of this authority over you, do we not much more so? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this authority, but we are bearing all things, in order that we might not offer any hindrance to the good news about the Christ. Do you not know that the men performing sacred duties eat the things of the temple, and those constantly attending at the altar have a portion for themselves with the altar? In this way, too, the Lord ordained for those proclaiming the good news to live by means of the good news.

But I have not made use of a single one of these [provisions]. Indeed, I have not written these things that it should become so in my case, for it would be finer for me to die than—no man is going to make my reason for boasting void! If, now, I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news! If I perform this willingly, I have a reward; but if I do it against my will, all the same I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What, then, is my reward? That while declaring the good news I may furnish the good news without cost, to the end that I may not abuse my authority in the good news.

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As a Ministerial Servant, I was tending to some duties just before the meeting when I heard an unmistakable voice followed by a greeting that spelled doom:

"Brother Friend! What a surprise! What brings you here?" It was Maxwell Friend, from the Governing Body! And what did bring him here, far from his home turf? It turns out he was chums with an elderly couple from the sister congregation, and he was in town to visit. Friend's voice was very distinctive, easily recognized from recorded dramas.

Of course, normally this greeting would not spell doom at all. I would be happy to meet him. But I had a teaching part on the evening's program, a Q & A session, and I hadn't really prepared to the extent I would have liked. I wasn't unprepared, you understand, just not prepared enough to be brimming with confidence. "Great," I thought, "just great! Here I'm going to show myself an inept ass before one of the Governing Body!"

But I'd done these parts before, and this one went fine. Brother Friend sat in the audience just like anyone else and raised his hand to comment just like anyone else. I called on him. He made some brief remark just like anyone else.

Among Jehovah's Witnesses there is no distinctive garb nor any segregation for those who take the lead. Understand that, as a member of the Governing Body, Brother Friend would correspond rank-wise with the Pope's inner circle of Cardinals. [yes, yes, I know, we don't really think of "ranks," we think of ones serving, but you get my drift] Yet here he was indistinguishable among brothers of the congregation, obediently answering my Q & A questions!

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Maxwell Friend came from Germany and he was a Holocaust survivor. And since this post began with an observation of Pope Benedict, it is irresistible to contrast the two. Benedict, as a youngster, was a member of the Hitler youth and later served in the German military. Of course, I write this not to denigrate Benedict, but rather to elevate Friend. Benedict was a kid at the time, and without a strong support system [which, alas, the Church was not], he could hardly have been expected to refuse Nazi cooperation. Nobody says he embraced it wholeheartedly. I'm sure he did not. He later deserted from the military, to his considerable credit.

Nonetheless, we sure have some irony. If visitors from another planet were to play "match game," surely they would connect the guy who cooperated with that despicable regime, albeit as a vulnerable youth under duress, with the future governing body member of a derided, fringe nutcake religion, while the fellow who refused any fellowship with those felons would certainly be the one later to lead the world's largest and most prominent church denomination.

But they'd be wrong.

And in this age of "victimization," it's only a matter of time till cooperation with the Nazis is seen as a growing, learning experience, whereas outright refusal is just pigheaded and impractical, the expected course of a closed-minded religious nut.....in the odd tradition we have today of converting a plus into a minus and vice versa.

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“All those who suffered persecution because of their religious or political beliefs and who were willing to accept death rather than submit deserve our great respect, such respect as is hard to express in words. Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only religion that completely refused to accede to the demands of the Hitler regime: They did not raise their hand to give the Hitler salute. They refused to swear allegiance to ‘Führer and State,’ just as they refused to perform military and labor service. And their children did not join the Hitler Youth Movement.” Peter Straub, president of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg - from a speech made on the 58th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

 

[Edit  11/3/11   A brother emailed me to say that, although Max Friend had been in Bethel forever and ever, and had done many things, he was never on the governing body.  Naw....can't be, I said. But then I checked and....sure enough, it was true. Where did I ever get this idea in my head? Gasp.....does this mean I could also be wrong on other things?]

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Tom Irregardless and Me              No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)