Obeying God Rather than Men

Ministry of the Apostles. Russian icon by Fyodor Zubov, 1660.

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Acts of the Apostles 5:27-33
John 3:31-36

In the Easter season, we follow the presentation of the Acts of the Apostles describing the action-packed developments of the community of Jesus in the months following his death and resurrection. Among all the 27 books of the New Testament, we get our basic impression of the expansion of the early church “in Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) from this lengthy narrative which highlights the roles of Peter and the former persecutor Paul in those crucial decades of the mid-first century.

“Crucial” (which echoes the “cross of Jesus”) is the lens for clearly understanding the underlying theme of this rapidly unfolding tale. The travels and travail of Peter and Paul are interspersed with more than two dozen speeches recalling the revelation of God in Israel which the first Jewish and Gentile Christians see fulfilled in Jesus, whom they proclaim as both Messiah and Lord.

The cross of Jesus would also cast its shadow far beyond Calvary into the lives of successive generations. In Acts, one senses that the early Church goes through the same trials as Jesus did. This is both eerie and comforting because, though his followers face the same Sanhedrin in today’s reading as he did, Jesus would eventually triumph when he was raised from the dead. Surely that faith is what prompts their bold refusal to stop teaching in the name of Jesus.  “We must obey God rather than men.”

The Acts of the Apostles has become part of the collective memory of the twenty-first century Church. Martyrdom still abounds. Individual believers are still tested in their fidelity to Christ in challenging circumstances. Even young adults must make resolutions to follow God’s commandments when other peers choose a different road because “everyone is doing it.” The Acts of the Apostles is more than just an exciting book to read in these post-Easter days. It can remind us of the primary standard of God’s role in our lives, especially if we have grown tepid in that regard. Perseverance is the crux of the matter.

(Fr. Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a member of the Preaching Team of the Province of St. Paul of the Cross)

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