Impossible Not to Speak
In the Acts of the Apostles we watch Peter and John and the others learning to take on the mission that Jesus has given them. They are learning as they go and we can see the Holy Spirit becoming more and more involved with their efforts.
In this early passage from Acts 4, we see Peter and John encountering a crippled beggar at ʺthe Beautiful Gateʺ into the city of Jerusalem. The beggar asks for alms and Peter and John look the man in the eye and say to him, ʺLook at us.ʺ Struck by their direct gaze, and thinking that they are going to give him something, the man looks at them intently. Peter then says, ʺI have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.ʺ Then, Peter reaches out to the beggar, takes his hand and helps him up and as he does so, ʺthe man’s feet and ankles [grow] strong.ʺ The man starts leaping and dancing for joy and follows Peter and John, into the Temple, dancing excitedly, which fills all of the people there with amazement, because they recognize that this dancing man is the crippled beggar who always sits at The Beautiful Gate. Then they all listen to a powerful speach by Peter where he addresses their amazement and let’s them know that it was not by his or John’s power that this man has been healed but by the name of Jesus. He explains to them what they had done, out of ignorance, along with their leaders, in crucifying Jesus; that what had happened to Jesus had been predicted by all the prophets and was now, in their sight, simply being fulfilled. But there is more. He tells them that even though they had crucified Jesus, they could still repent of their sins, that they could be wiped away. He quotes the great Moses to them saying: ʺA prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you sall losten in all that he may say to you. Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people.ʺ (Acts 3:22-23)
In the middle of Peter’s speech to the people, the captain of the temple guard and the Saducees confront him and John. They arrest them and take them before the high priests in the Sanhedrin. The crucifixion is still so fresh in the minds of these high priests, Nicodemus and Caiaphas among them, and they are made uncomfortable by these two men. They have ʺcuredʺ a cripple, but both are saying that it was not by their power, that they did this, but that it was done through the power of the name of Jesus. They tell them that this Jesus, whom they had crucified, ʺwhom God raised from the dead…is the ‘stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.’ʺ (Acts 4:11) We can imagine that this news jangles their nerves. We can imagine that it made them nervous precisely because they were feeling their guilt in the matter of the crucifixion. They are unnerved by these men, who they take to be simple, uneducated types, but who are standing before them boldly proclaiming the truth about Jesus with intelligence, a clear faith, and with ʺevidence;ʺ the cured cripple who is still leaping for joy beside them. They see that the people are really moved; that they are struck by the miracle and by the confidence and the simple clarity of Peter and John. They also suddenly recognize Peter and John as having been companions of this Jesus.
The high priests of the Sanhedrin begin to realize that they are caught between a rock (the evidence of the cured cripple and the simple power of these men’s words) and a hard place (the people who are praising God for what they have witnessed with their own eyes). They dither about what to do with these two men, Peter and John. So they come up with a limp, artless plan. They give them a ʺstern warningʺ never to speak to any one in Jesus’ name.
When we read this we, too, are beginning to see that something unstoppable has begun to unfold, something that continues to unfold even now, in our own times. The cheif priests plan is stopped in its tracks by the courage of conviction with which Peter and John respond to their threats. Standing before their august presence, Peter and John reply to their threats saying, ʺWhether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible fo us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.ʺ Do you not love to see that kind of courage in the face of raw power? The high priest bullies have no power against this kind of courage. They sputter further threats, but they have to let Peter and John go. Their hands are tied. They can find no legitimate way to punish them. They were painfully aware that the people were beginning to believe that it really was God who had cause this miracle, who had used these two men, Peter and John, to heal this man who had beed crippled for over forty years, through the power of this name, Jesus. They were beginning to believe that maybe this man, Jesus, who had been crucified so recently, really was who he said he was, the Messiah of God, the one who had been prophesied by all the holy prophets down through the ages.
And this was only the beginning. The Acts of the Apostles reveals how the Church began to take hold so quickly and so powerfully in those early months and years. It grew because of the faith of the Apostles and the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, it is we who must take up the role of the Apostles. We are the ones who are commissioned now, in the Holy Spirit, to go out and to preach the Good News that it is through the name of Jesus that the whole human is saved. Let us do this in joy. Let us do this with kindness, with understanding hearts, with compassion. Let us be patient and caring. Let us be courageous enough in our faith to love unconditionally, even our enemies. In other words, let us be like Jesus in the world today. Let us never fall into the foolishness of thinking that we ought to impose Jesus on anyone, but rather, let us propose Jesus to all by our lives of compassionate and loving service, by our forgiveness, and by our mercy. Jesus wants us to serve all equally in his name, not to judge them by and through it. In the end, it was because the Apostles chose, willingly, to become fragile, humble instruments in the loving hands of God, that their missions were successful. They did not do what they did to serve their own interests, but to serve God alone. And so must we.