When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him. (R./)
The Lord turns his eyes to the just
and his ears to their appeal.
They call and the Lord hears
and rescues them in all their distress. (R./)
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted;
those whose spirit is crushed he will save.
Many are the trials of the just man
but from them all the Lord will rescue him. (R./)
The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath.
How can we distinguish inner strength from a stubborn spirit of confrontation? How can we be sure which of our convictions come from God and should be followed whatever the cost? Maybe our resistance to authority is based on our own pride? Direct personal revelations must be rare, so how can we tell if God is really prompting us? To follow Jesus and speak in his name, we must be radical and willing to walk the way of the cross with him. For Jesus was nailed to a tree, the most public and painful of deaths, in defence of his convictions.
Today’s text from Acts offers an instance of radically following Jesus : “We testify and so does the Holy Spirit,” said St. Peter. It suggests that we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance through personal prayer before we can really bear witness to Christ. In conflict situations we can also check out our ideas with an honest mentor. It is good to have someone who will tell us the plain truth and help us distinguish between courage and mere obstinacy.
Prayer and spiritual guidance help to free us from our obsessions and our comfort zones. Another way of testing our ideas is seen in Peter’s reference to the God of our ancestors. Do I consult the Bible seriously, to stay in tune with the early church’s faith? We need this kind of listening for a genuine, integrated spirituality. If we just pick and choose texts to suit ourselves, it merely reinforces our fixed ideas. We need guidance both from tradition and the Holy Spirit. Then our words, like those of the early Christians, will bear authentic witness and can help to bring others to a fuller faith.
Jesus is aware that he "comes down from above", and that the Father has entrusted everything to him. None of those things applied to John the Baptist. He recognised the uniqueness of Jesus, which is why he could say, “he must increase, but I must decrease.”
Like the Baptist, we cannot fully appreciate the mystery of Jesus. The closer we come to him, the more we know how much we need to grow. We too can say, “he must increase; I must decrease.” As his presence increases in us and our ego welcomes him, we don’t cease to be ourselves. The more he grows in us, the more we fulfil our potential and become all that God wants us to be.