But what about somebody named Jesus? Do you know him? Would you give your life for that name? Would you defend the name of Jesus with your life? Most people today wouldn’t. We’d be more likely to use that name along with curses and four letters words… that seems to be the norm for many people nowadays. But it wasn’t always that way.
Let’s go back to that first reading to illustrate…. Because there is something missing… something that could potentially change the way we understand it. Did you notice what was missing?
We heard how the apostles were drug before the Sanhedrin. The chief priests were ticked off! They hold TOLD the apostles before NOT to teach about Jesus – but they hadn’t listened. So they just got arrested again. Now remember – these are the very same guys who had had Jesus killed…so we should expect that they would not be very tolerant of these Jesus-freaks. The Apostles SHOULD have been scared to death… but instead, they were very defiant… basically telling the priests to their face that THEY were the ones who had killed the Messiah. The priests HAD to be even MORE FURIOUS!!! But suddenly, the reading says, they warned the apostles not to speak about Jesus anymore and dismissed them. Doesn’t add up, does it?
For some reason, the Lectionary skips part of the story –Actually – if you had come to the daily Mass on Friday, you would have heard this… so I want to give you the quick version of the rest of the story. The priests WERE ticked…more than ticked… they were discussing having the apostles killed! However, one man, a well-respected teacher among the priests named Gamaliel, stepped forward and uttered some prophetic words. Basically, he said – be careful how you handle these followers of Jesus! We’ve had false messiahs in the past – that’s Theudus and Judas of Galilee I mentioned a couple minutes ago… and some of these guys have been very charismatic and gained a large following. But – once they were dead – the followers disbanded. Like a sand castle by the ocean, they simply washed away. So – he advised – don’t hinder these men. If they are NOT from God, then they will destroy themselves…they’ll never last… but if they ARE from God, then there is nothing any of us could do to stop them anyway… because we would find that we’re fighting against God!
So – they had the apostles flogged – THEN warned them not to teach about Jesus anymore and let them go. That’s the rest of the story… and it changes how we might understand the last sentence. It says the apostles went away rejoicing that they had been worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. They suffered more than dishonor! Flogging is a major penalty – 39 lashes with a strap across the back or chest.
Why do I think all of this is important? Because without the rest of the story, it would be easy to conclude that just mentioning the name of Jesus can get you out of a tight situation with the authorities. (Honest, officer, I HAD to speed so I could get to St. Raphael to preach…so people would hear about ‘Jesus’! Oh- why didn’t you mention that in the first place – let me escort you to church!... think that would happen?) Without the rest of the story, it may sound like the apostles were simply rejoicing that they had been SCOLDED… but not so – they were rejoicing because they had been flogged…THEY HAD A SHARE IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST. Is that anything to rejoice about?
For me, THESE stories from the Acts of the Apostles are the ones that really bolster my personal belief in Jesus. I agree with Gamaliel – if this Christian movement was NOT from God – it would have collapsed centuries ago. Lord knows, we humans can mess up ANYthing. But because the Holy Spirit has guided the church, it has grown IN SPITE of all our blunders. Most of these apostles went on to die for the name of Jesus…. And there ain’t NO WAY that 12 men would DIE if they knew that Jesus HADN’T risen from the dead. In fact, thousands of people through the centuries have died for the name of Jesus. Just last week, dozens of Christians were killed in Egypt. The killing continues… and is actually INCREASING in the world today.
Obviously, this raises some important questions for each of us to answer. Peter, do you love me? Jesus is asking you…. Lisa, do you love me? Ben, do you love me? Ronda, Loretta, Joel, Andy… do you love me?
Each time he asked that of Peter, he followed with a command – feed my sheep, tend my lambs, feed my sheep…. As if he’s saying – ok – you SAY you love me… PROVE it! Jesus asks each of us every day – do you love me? Each moment, we have to decide whether we are living for JESUS or for Mike?
I’ve thought about this question a lot the past several months. Would I have the guts to suffer for Jesus? Would I still be Catholic if it was illegal to be Catholic? Would I still stand up for the rights of the unborn if our society stoned people who are pro-life? Would I still stand-up here and teach the beliefs of the Catholic Church about all of the hot-button topics of the day if even the people in the pew turned against me? Would I still go to Mass if the police or mobs were watching – just waiting for us to make a mistake so they could torture us or kill us? I’m not sure my faith is that strong… I’m a weak human. But I pray that the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of St. Mary will give me the courage to stand up when the time comes.
The Gospel ends with what may seem like some real downers… Jesus tells Peter that when he is older, he too will suffer and die for the faith… Jesus is saying – if you really Love me, Peter – this is what awaits you. (stretch out arms) THIS is what I need you to do!
So when Jesus concluded with ‘follow me’… he wasn’t talking about following him on twitter or facebook… he was saying… follow me … to the cross.
HERE IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS…Jesus knew what we know today… that it was the willingness of the Apostles to die for their beliefs… THAT was what poured the gasoline on the fire of Christianity and spread it across the world.
If there is any way that OUR suffering can help fan that flame, Lord, if there is any way we can bring glory to YOUR NAME… may we be like the Mexican martyrs less than a century ago who gave their lives by the thousands when the Catholic Church was outlawed…, may we all be given that courage… not just to die for our faith … but to LIVE for our faith.