Monday, August 17, 2009

Under the Influence

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

                        Acts 4.13

A Plan Falls Apart

A late, great friend had a saying I miss: “I love it when a good plan comes together!” Our little group worshiped at the same church, and after service Dwayne would saunter up to see whether we were going to brunch or an impromptu potluck. If we hadn’t worked it out yet, he’d plead, “Somebody make a decision,” and walk off. If we knew what we wanted to do, he’d bring smiles all around by delivering his trademark line with gusto. “I love it when a good plan comes together!” Dwayne's mantra returned to mind recently while reading the Acts 4 account of Peter and John being summoned before local religious leaders. The Apostles have no plan at all, while the leaders had what seemed like a good plan to end this Jesus business once and for all. But the hearing only confirms their plan didn’t come together. It's come totally apart.

Not long after Pentecost, Peter and John attend Temple and a lame man begs them for money. “We don’t have any,” Peter says. But he has power to command the beggar, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3.6) The man is healed and runs into the Temple, leaping and rejoicing. Everyone’s curious how it happened. The Apostles proclaim Christ, which gets them reported to the authorities. They question Peter and John about their authority to heal. Peter boldly explains, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” With the poise of a trained scholar, he cites Psalm 118.22, saying Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone”—adding Christ alone has the power to heal and save. The plan to remove Jesus from the picture hasn’t worked. As long as His followers preach and perform miracles in His name, He’ll never go away.

No Denying

Conceding their plan’s failure, the leaders contemplate next steps. Here’s where the story gets really interesting, because Peter and John don’t mean to create problems. They meet someone in need and help him. People wonder how they do it, so they tell them. The religious authorities ask similar questions and Peter, whom verse 8 says is “filled with the Holy Spirit,” answers on their level with a prophecy they know very well. The healed man comes to court to corroborate their story. Nothing the Apostles do or say intends to corner Christ’s opposition, yet that’s what happens.

Peter and John are obviously “unschooled, ordinary men,” which is why their courage—i.e., audacity—takes the learned council aback. “They took note that these men had been with Jesus,” Acts 4.13 tells us. With the healed man beside them canceling any chance to dispute his healing, they’re sent away while the council discusses the matter privately. Verse 16 says they’re at a loss about what to do with Peter and John. News of the miracle has spread over the city. It’s too late to refute it. Even so, this needs to stop. They tell the Apostles not to speak or teach in Jesus’s name. Peter and John refuse, saying, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” (v17) From the council’s side, there’s no denying the miracle and Apostles’ bold testimony. But more, important, where Peter and John stand, there’s no denying their authority to speak, teach, and heal in Jesus’s name.

Unconscious

Peter and John don’t draw attention on purpose; they’re noticed because they’ve been with Jesus. They’re under the influence of His example and teachings. Listen to how they answer the order to cease talking about Him: “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (v20) Christ’s love and grace have overpowered them. Restoring the man’s mobility is what Jesus told them to do: “they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16.18) Talking about Christ is second nature; in verse 15 of the same chapter, Jesus told them to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” The hearing happens exactly as Jesus said: “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12.11-12) The Christ inside comes out of them. It’s unforced and unprovoked—to the point of being unconscious.

Christ’s power and love don’t come bottled and wrapped for easy consumption. If we truly want to live under His influence, we first have to take time to be with Him. We need to talk to Him, study Him, listen closely to what He says and how speaks, and observe how He behaves. The better we understand His character and teaching, the more influence He has over us. His thoughts crowd out our thoughts. His love removes our fear. His will conquers our willfulness.

Did Peter and John suspect healing a man in Jesus’s name would cause trouble? It’s hard to imagine not. They were at the Temple, home of the plot against Christ. Still, they spoke strength to his frailty. Did they know preaching Christ would stir controversy? Of course. But they couldn’t disobey Jesus’s command just to avoid criticism. Were they concerned about the council’s charges? Naturally—but they weren’t worried. They’d been with Jesus. They were under His influence. They had every confidence He would live up to His promises. He did. And He’ll do the same for us when we reach out to others, speak to them about God’s love and mercy, and allow God's Spirit to guide how we respond to challenges. Living under the influence is how we rise above weakness and opposition.

Two men under the influence. (Peter and John Running to the Tomb: Eugène Burnand; 1898.)

(Tomorrow: Back to the Garden)

4 comments:

Missy Francis said...

Very nice reflection, Tim. I really like the illustration you found, too.

The paragraph that begins, "Christ's power and love don't come bottled and wrapped for easy consumption..." sounds ready made for adult evangelization. We always focus on Jesus stories first in the catechumanate--for this very reason. "The better we understand His character and teaching, the more influence He has over us."

Thank you for the daily bread!

Tim said...

You know, Missy, I get so wrapped up in exploring the text I'm often concerned I've buried the message. But the paragraph you mention leapt out at me too. It seemed out of place--should have come at the end--yet it also felt right where it was. Thanks for the reassurance!

Yes, Jesus must come first. His sacrifice redeems us, His resurrection revives us, and His Spirit empowers us. Yet none of these miracles has meaning until we embrace His life as our example and His teaching as our guide. After we understand Him better, the Old Testament's prototypes and prophecies obtain their meaning and the epistles' challenging theology starts to make more sense.

And speaking of daily bread, I'm still reeling from the link to Deacon Greg's homily on the Host you posted on FB and St. Anne's. "A love so great that it can humble itself, and become nothing more than bread." Wow!

For anyone tracking, here are the links--they're both well worth your time.

http://stanneprayforus.blogspot.com/2009/08/bread-of-life.html

http://deacbench.blogspot.com/2009/08/homily-for-august-16-2009-20th-sunday.html

Missy, thank you for your words and your generosity of spirit and wisdom. You are truly a blessing to us all.

Much love and joy,
Tim

Missy Francis said...

:) I was just noticing my choice of words--"ready made" and yours "bottle and wrapped"--we're on the same cliche train.

Yes, Jesus is the stuff of Christians. By all means, if you're going to become a Christian, do it for Him, for the mystery, for the spirituality--not for dogma or rules or hierarchy.

Tim said...

Amen, sister!