by Father Mike Stubbs
Only a few weeks ago, the Gospel reading for Palm Sunday showed Jesus facing trial for his life because of his teachings. His accusers charged, “He is inciting the people with his teachings throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here.”
Sunday’s first reading — Acts 27-32, 40b-41 — echoes that trial scene. This time, though, it is the apostles who are standing on trial before the Sanhedrin. Like Jesus, the apostles also have incurred the displeasure of the authorities because of their teachings: “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.”
Like Jesus, the apostles also face the danger of death because of their insistence on engaging in this prophetic ministry. The verses deleted from our reading reveal that danger: “When they heard this, they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.”
Fortunately for the apostles, the Pharisee Gamaliel dissuades the Sanhedrin from this rash action. He advises them that if the apostles are from God, then nothing can stop them, but if they are not from God, then they will fail on their own: “For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them.”
(Incidentally, Gamaliel’s suggestion demonstrates that the Pharisees were not always opposed to the Christians, even if it appears that way sometimes in the Gospels.)
In following Gamaliel’s advice and releasing the apostles, the Sanhedrin concedes the possibility that the apostles’ actions are of God. And all that we see happening points to that conclusion. After all, this is not the first time that the apostles have been arrested for their preaching. That earlier arrest is described in the verses immediately preceding our reading.
But after having been miraculously freed from jail by an angel, the apostles resume their preaching. Even the charge of the Sanhedrin against the apostles acknowledges the effectiveness of their teaching: “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” The word “filled” underlines the thoroughness of the apostles’ teaching. The opponents of the apostles do not merely say that the apostles have engaged in teaching. Rather, they have “filled Jerusalem” with their teaching.
The apostles appear as an unstoppable force, as they spread the good news about the risen Christ. Jail cannot hold them. The Sanhedrin cannot stop them. Through the apostles, the risen Christ continues to speak.
And just as surely, the risen Christ continues to speak through the church, founded upon the apostles
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