Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
We could be forgiven if we were to give a little partisan cheer this morning, reading Luke's account of the Apostle's escape from prison. Out of jealousy and fear, the Sadducees lay “hands upon the Apostles” and lock them away in order to silence their preaching. We can grumble about this injustice, even flare up with righteous indignation at such a flagrant violation of the Apostles' human rights. Had we lived back then, we might've started a petition campaign, protested outside the temple, and boycotted paying our temple taxes until The Twelve were released. However, if we were paying attention, we'd take our cue from the angel and skip the public theatrics. Luke tells us that the angel opens the jail and says to the Apostles, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.” No flaming angelic Sword of Justice? No booming voice from heaven damning the unrighteous? Just “go do your job”? That's it? John writes, “. . .whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” The only light we have is the glory of God shining through our words and on our deeds. The only approval we should need comes from God, and Him alone.
Reading Luke's account of the Apostles' imprisonment and escape leaves me wanting a little more, something more dramatic, more Old Testament-like: an earthquake cracking open the jail, or a blinding white fire melting the Apostles' chains. Something truly epic to let the Church's persecutors know that they're messing with power and majesty beyond their comprehension. The way Luke describes the scene in Acts is just. . .boring, if being rescued by an angel can be called boring. I'm ashamed to confess that I'd hoped the angel would shoot bolts of lightening at the guards and melt the offending Sadducees in a cloud of black acid. Instead, the angel just opens the cell door and says, “Go on now, get back to work.” What the angel understands and I'm reluctant to admit is that the work the Apostles have been given to do is not theirs work alone to complete. Nor is it mine or even ours. The Church's enemies—over the centuries—have managed with prison, torture, and death to silence thousands of gospel voices. But the Voice of the Gospel has never been silenced nor will it. “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
A work done “in God” is a work done with heaven's approval and help. A work done “in God,” a word spoken “in God” is indestructible. The worker, the speaker can be silenced, locked away, murdered, but the Word and Deed of the Good News lives on through the Church, in the Body of Christ, always free, always in the light of God's truth. A moment's reflection tells us why this is. If God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for us so that we might live, and then arranged our salvation through Christ in such a way that the news of his saving death must be heard to be believed, then it makes sense that that Good News would be permanently proclaimed despite the Enemy's opposition. God's plan for our salvation never rests on a single man or woman, never on a single preacher, priest, or pope but upon the witness of the whole Church, speaking with one heart, one mind the one word of God's freely given mercy to sinners: Christ. So, no, the Apostles' rescue from prison was not an earth-shattering event worthy of being made into a 3-D summer blockbuster movie. Nor does doing our work as followers of Christ warrant a novel or two on the bestseller list. Your cell door is open, go on now, get back to work._______________
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