3d Sunday of Easter
April 13, 1986
Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41
Rev 5: 11-14
Assumption, San Leandro, Calif.
This past Sunday (April 30), I was away from Champaign for a sacramental occasion and a couple of days of vacation in the woods. Here’s a homily from long ago and far away (my sabbatical year in Berkeley, Calif.).
“We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5: 29).
(c) Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org
It’s a few months after the resurrection. Guided and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the apostles are preaching fearlessly about Christ: “The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus, whom you put to death…. God has exalted him at his right hand as Ruler and Savior, to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (5:30-31).
As we heard last week, the power of Jesus works thru the apostles: not only the power of the word and the power of forgiveness but the power of healing too.
But preaching the need to repent—preaching Jesus—is unpopular, especially with men of power and influence. So the high priest and the Sanhedrin have tried to silence Peter and the apostles.
The answer of the apostles, as we’ve heard, is bold proclamation: “We must obey God rather than men.” After consultations, the Sanhedrin again issues an injunction—no more of this Jesus in public! The prohibition is explained by a sound flogging—which, for some reason, got dropped from v. 40 in the lectionary; but that’s the “ill treatment” in which the apostles rejoice in v. 41.
So the apostles face a bitter and painful persecution, one soon to burst into murderous violence. But for the sake of the Name of Jesus, they’re happy. Now they can more closely identify with Jesus, who suffered for his preaching, when they offer themselves to God by doing what God asks, viz., preaching Jesus, repentance, and eternal life, and when they suffer for that.
The reading from Revelation today refers to “the Lamb that was slain,” thereby attaining “praise and honor, glory and might” (Rev 5:12-13). The lamb, as you know, was the main animal of sacrifice for the Jews, especially for the liberating Passover sacrifice. So it became the symbol of Christ, our crucified and gloried Lord Jesus. This Lamb’s death and resurrection have made him our “ruler and savior,” freeing us from our sins.
Like Peter and his companions, you and I must obey God rather than men. We must practice our Catholic faith even when it’s inconvenient, event when we might stand out, even when society says to cut it out.
Last month our Holy Father—Peter’s successor—described the part that lay people have to play in the world. He said, “The common priesthood of the baptized … consists in their making their lives a spiritual offering, in witnessing to the Christian spirit in the family, in taking charge of the temporal sphere and sharing in the evangelization of their brethren.”
To make our lives a spiritual offering is mostly an interior act, of course. It means prayer and an attitude of submission to God, a readiness for whatever he may ask of us, praise for his goodness and even for what we don’t understand in him.
To witness to the Christian spirit in the family puts us a little more in the public eye, like the early Christians praying in Solomon’s Portico, of which we heard in last week’s reading from Acts (5:12). It means giving good example to one another: especially with the husband-wife, children-parents family, but the Christian family too. It means teaching the Faith and teaching to pray. It means praying together—do you say grace together when you eat in a restaurant? It means recognizing and respecting God’s plan in human sexuality. It means readiness to forgive, to help and support, and to allow others to mature as individuals. It means parents being firm with kids but being friends too, as Christ would have it.
To take charge of the temporal sphere and to share in the evangelization of others—Pope John Paul puts them together. Christians managing the world means preaching the Gospel—by what they do and how they do it. Christians can’t evangelize, i.e., preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, without taking charge of the temporal order.
The temporal order means the realities of business, labor, play, school, politics, our ordinary daily lives. We have to live our faith in Jesus in this world, let others see the power of Jesus’ love: his power for goodness, for respect, for justice, for peace, for life. It’s all this that puts us in conflict, makes worldly powers and influences tell us, “Come on!” or “Don’t force your morality on me”—as if honesty, human dignity, and life were private values and not public ones.
We can’t be private Christians and public agnostics. We can’t be Sunday Catholics and weekday wimps. We can’t be church-building believers and business, school, or political weather vanes, spinning with the social wind. While respecting the dignity of every person, we can’t yield to human respect, i.e., sacrificing our basic beliefs and values because of what people might think or say. “We must obey God rather than men.”