1995 April 30 – 3rd Sun Easter (Bulletin Letters)
Cycle C 3rd Sun Easter
Acts 5, 27b-32. 40b-41
“Better for us to obey God than men!” Acts 5/29
In this week’s first reading from the 5th Chapter of Acts, the Apostles are back in court, in front of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin (Jerusalem’s Governing Body). They are answering to charges of disobeying the Sanhedrin’s direct order not to preach in the name of Jesus in the Temple area. The Apostles were caught clearly doing what they were ordered not to do. In disobeying the direct orders of the Sanhedrin, they were in contempt of the legitimate civil and religious authority in Jerusalem. They were breaking the law.
The Apostles did not deny that they knowingly participating in this law-breaking activity. And when confronted by the High Priest with this obvious breach of law, St. Peter and the Apostles’ deffended themselves by saying, “Better for us to obey God than men!”
These eight small words, “Better for us to obey God than men!” have served throughout the centuries to explain and support Faith based ‘civil & ecclesiastical disobedience’ . Implicit in them is the principle of the supremacy of God’s Way’s over human made laws. It gives each individual person the right and obligation to disobey any human made law (either Church & State) in order to follow what he/she believes to be God’s higher command.
Of course, the problem with this defense for unlawful disobedience’ comes when deciding which human made laws are not in keeping with God’s commands and must be disobeyed? The people who have the most difficult time accepting this sort of defense are often the people who make and enforce the human made laws. Jesus certainly had a tough time convincing the civil and religious authorities of his day of his Divine insights. The authorities ended up hanging him on a tree.
Being a student of the history of civil disobedience and a frequent participant in acts nonviolent civil disobedience, I know something of how this dynamic works. As someone who is convinced personally of the moral certainty of my nonviolent anti-nuclear weapon’s position, I have often used the Apostle’s defense in the Omaha Fed. Courts. And I might add, I have not had much success.
The New Testament writers also knew well the reality of this rejection and wrote often about it. In today’s Gospel from John 21st chapter, we have a good example. We are told of the story of mystical and eerie sea shore visit of the Resurrected Jesus to the fishing disciples. At the end of this story, Jesus ask Peter point blank three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter responded after each question, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
After the three questions, Jesus tells Peter a strange thing. He tells him that as a young man, he went and did what he wanted but when he gets older and deeper into the Gospel witness he will be taken bound and secured (under arrest) to places he will not want to go. The text says that Jesus spoke this way to indicate the sort of death Peter would suffer. Ultimately Jesus was telling Peter that loving and following His Ways was going to lead Peter to his own martyr’s death on a cross. Following in the Spirit of Jesus comes with heavy consequences. The New Testament is very clear about this. Christians should know this up front and expect them.
“The Apostles for their part left the Sanhedrin full of joy that they had been judged worthy of ill-treatment for the sake of the Name.” Acts 5/41
Following the Spirit of Jesus also comes with much joy. After being “flogged” and warned not to persist in their proclamation of Jesus, the Apostles were dismissed by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. Today’s text tells us that the Apostles left the Temple filled with joy for being “judged worthy of ill-treatment for the sake of the Name.” How strange?
To be flogged is no small ordeal. Over 40 slashes was considered lethal. The Apostles also knew they were not out of the trouble yet. They had every intention to continue to preach in the name of Jesus and spread the outlawed Gospel message. Soon after this, St. Steven will be stoned to death. The consequences for following the Way of Jesus quickly escalated from a few lashes of the wipe to capital offense.
How than can the Apostles be over joyed at this prospect? I know something of this strange joy also. The last time I experienced it was back in Oct., in the Fed. Court room, immediately after my being sentenced to six months in prison. I knew at the time that I had done the best I could to speak my truth to the Fed. Court. There is a deep-down feeling of integrity and satisfaction that comes when you’ve done the best you can, in difficult circumstances, to stand up for what you believe. When the Judge sentenced me to six months, I left the court room filled with joy, knowing that I had been found worthy of “ill-treatment” for standing up for what I believe, for following the Way of Jesus as I see it.
Of course, the good feeling doesn’t last forever. Soon after, I was back into the world of the imprisoned. Prison life afforded me a whole new environment to test my spirit and person. Yet through it all, the memory of my moment before the Judge stayed with me and gave me much comfort and strength during the hard times that came with my six-month imprisonment.
FREE, FREE, FREE AT LAST!
I’ve been enjoying my first days of freedom; every day seems like a holiday. I left Yankton in the midst of a snow & slit storm, yet it felt like the best day I had in six months. I’m so grateful to be back with you again. Thanks to all the folks who have made my return so enjoyable. It is my plan to continue celebrating my freedom throughout the Easter seasons……