Reading from the book of Acts this morning, it occurred to me that the reading seems to be about tests. Then I thought about all the tests I have gone through in my life, both in school and in life. I concluded that God didn’t send these tests, being human did. No one gets out of this life without having to pass or fail lessons that come upon us as we grow, learn, age, and experience what life has to offer.
Peter and John faced a test when they went before the Council, and it was a test for them. They had already tested Peter and John, and it concluded that they were not educated and were quite ordinary men. They were totally unlike those who felt they needed to stand in judgment of them, yet here’s where another test came in. Peter and John had healed a man, a person who stood with them before this Council. He had been cured, and the Council could not perform that miracle. So what were they to do with Peter and John preaching, teaching, and healing?
So they did what many committees and councils do when they can’t quite figure out what they are supposed to do. They closed the Council and told Peter and John to wait outside while they discussed the matter. Here they could face the problem without having to do it in public. The problem was that the people were aware that the disciples had been able to perform miraculous healings through Jesus, and Jerusalem was abuzz with the news of this. The Council was really in a pickle–how to keep this infection from spreading, because to them, this new kind of faith ran contrary to their own, and they were uncomfortable with it.
They went back in and suggested rather strongly that the disciples not speak or teach about Jesus or in the name of Jesus. It was God’s decision as to how they should proceed, whether following the Council or obeying God. They had seen and heard many things, and these were things that people wanted to know about. So they refused to stop preaching and teaching. The Council had no alternative but to let them go. They couldn’t punish them for their beliefs, and besides, the people would be angry at such treatment of Jesus’ own people, especially since they were accompanied by one who had experienced the miracle of healing from Jesus through them.
I keep thinking about people in positions of real or perceived authority, like committees in Congress, who pepper witnesses with questions and then have to withdraw into their chamber to discuss how they’re going to handle this. Unfortunately, it happens rather often. There are always at least two sides.
The idea of the public hearing is so that the people will hear the truth — whether it is the real truth, perceived truth, or a partisan truth. The committee is composed of members elected by the people and then selected to serve on a particular committee. Still, people expect their representatives to follow the majority rules. It doesn’t always work that way.
Matthew 6:24e states, “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” (NRSV). We are allowing human beings to tell us what we should think, what we should believe, and whom we should obey. What if these beliefs are contrary to what we ourselves believe? Then it becomes a moral and ethical as well as spiritual problem. We’re told in the Bible that we should love God, love our neighbors, and do good. What is good? What’s right for one is not always proper for another. Many sides have talking heads trying to convince a majority of people that they are right and that they, the representatives of each side, are being honest and truthful. They’re cutting God out of the equation, and for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, it’s painfully obvious.
The high-priestly family, rulers, scribes, and elders were probably frustrated not to be able to stifle these followers of Jesus who were spreading the word and the teachings of Christ all over Israel, Judah, and points beyond. It was like watching a stone roll downhill; once put in motion, it was going to be almost impossible to stop.
So how do we respond to this rolling stone that we face today? As Christians, we are supposed to be listening to God and taking the words and teachings of the Bible not as literal commandments but as ethical and moral ones. We should dig deep to understand what those words meant at the time they were spoken and written, and not try to impose a modern degree of literalness to something that wasn’t meant to be literal. We must do our praying, and listening, and then making a judgment for ourselves as to where is God in what we are hearing and seeing. That’s the important thing.
Here Peter and John got it right; they said that they could not obey that demand. We are to have eyes that see and ears that hear, but also minds and hearts that are set on God and lenses through which we can observe the world as God intends for it to be. Too many Christians have died trying to do that, so now it’s time for us to move in God’s direction for the good of all.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.