A reading and a reflection
Acts 4: 23 – 31
After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered togethe against the Lord and against his Messiah.” For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
There’s a lot of overwhelming going on in this tale.
The disabled man who begged for money, and got something much, much better, is overwhelmed by his complete and miraculous cure
It is almost beyond belief that a person, unable to walk since birth … who has to be carried to his favoured site for begging every day … is now able to jump, leap and whoop with delight! It is clearly an act of God – hence his response of praise. The man gets it!
The crowd is overwhelmed as well, and having heard the explanation from Peter, get it too!
But the ruling authorities do not wish to see the evidence of their own eyes (as indeed they would not when they saw equally amazing acts from Jesus). And they do what people of power do when they simply cannot accept that they have made a mistake. They oppress, they act unjustly and they bully, as they seek to silence their opposition. In this, I see shades of Putin and other regimes possibly closer to home?
But what overwhelms me most is the reaction of Peter and John to this situation. In the face of intractable force, they courageously face down these bullying men, who sneer at them for being ‘uneducated and ordinary,’ and calmly speak truth to power.
Many of us can stand up to such pressure, at least initially, but perhaps in time fail to maintain the resolution? Likewise, the disciples realise they won’t, they can’t, do it alone.
So in today’s reading, concluding this episode, we see them doing what Christians have done for centuries – they pray for boldness, and the presence of the Spirit to help them.
Thus enabled, they continue to follow their God, their faith and their conscience. We could do a lot worse than do likewise.
“We believe that Christ gives his Church a government distinct from the government of the state. In the things that affect obedience to God, the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head. Civil authorities are called to serve God’s will of justice and peace for all humankind, and to respect the rights of conscience and belief.” Amen