The Rev. Peter Faass
Many of you know I take issue with the way lectionary compilers edit the scripture. The passage from Acts begins by saying, “Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?”
It begs the question, “made who walk?”
As we are in Easter season, my first inclination was to think that Peter and his companions were accused of making Jesus walk, of somehow resuscitated Jesus. This of course would’ve implied that Jesus was not dead. There was no shortage of people in those post-Easter days – like in our own day - working to undermine the authenticity of the Resurrection, so this fits with that pattern. But the one referred to as walking was not Jesus.
The lectionary compilers significantly omitted part of the story. In the preceding verses, Peter and his companion John entered the Jerusalem Temple and encountered “a man lame from birth.”
“People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3: 2-8)
Those who witnessed this healing were astonished. Peter explains that he and John haven’t done this healing. God of the Hebrew people, through Jesus, has empowered the disciples to perform acts of healing. Peter delivers a campaign speech to convince people not only of Jesus’ resurrection, but that he is the one, true Messiah of God.
This riles the religious authorities. “While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So, they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.” (Acts 4:1-4)
The next day, the disciples are put on trial. Peter again speaks eloquently in witness to Jesus’ Messiahship. The previously lame man, now healed, shows up as a witness and it pulls the rug from underneath the religious authorities’ claim that the faith Peter and John proclaim in Jesus is a sham.
“[The authorities] ordered [Peter and John] to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.”
This story is a first century version of George Orwell’s 1984. In 2018, we see this with governmental and political manipulation of the news media to control and silence news that threatens those in power.
In 1984, the authorities (known as the Inner Party) persecute individualism, independent thinking and any message dissenting from the official party line, which are regarded as "thought crimes." Currently, we have experienced this type of control over dissent by certain political leaders and operatives who label independent thought and thinking as being fake news, which to them is a thought crime.
This is what the authorities who arrest Peter and John are attempting to do; label the message of salvation being preached as a thought crime and fake news. It is a blatant attempt to control a message that threatens them and to prevent others from hearing it. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection, his being the Messiah, and the power he has given to his disciples are labeled fake news by the authorities. The Good News is powerful, and threatens those in power and their ability to control people.
How often do professed Christians, either actively or passively proclaim that the Good News is fake news? How about those alleged Christians who turn a blind eye when political or religious leaders they support commit adultery, lie, cheat, steal, abuse, and in other ways mock the message of Jesus? How about those alleged Christians who continue to enthusiastically support these leaders who are unrepentant and unremorseful about their behaviors? What these folks are actually saying is that the Good News is fake news, because the Good News proclaims that the Ten Commandments, Beatitudes and the New Commandment matter and are essential to a good and holy life. They are critical to being an authentic disciple of Jesus.
How about Christians who believe that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, people of color, and immigrants from Africa, Asia and Central and South America (basically anyone not white and Christian) are inferior human beings from worthless countries and cultures? They are declaring is that the Good News is fake news. In the reign of God Jesus proclaims, we are called to respect the dignity and worth of every human being, and to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
What about those who profess to follow Jesus believe that Christmas and Easter are just sweet children’s holidays and are best celebrated with trees, carols, Santa Claus, bunnies, eggs and candy? When we believe this, we are declaring that the Good News is fake news. The Good News proclaims that the Incarnation of God in Jesus, and the Resurrection of Jesus from the grave profoundly express a God who loves us more than we can imagine. Those two mighty acts of love are able to redeem all the sin-sick brokenness of the world, and to bring new life to all creation.
How often do our words and deeds proclaim the Good News as fake news?
When the risen Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, he affirms his authenticity by letting them touch his wounds and by eating real food. But his presence is validated by his words, “Peace be with you.” His message of peace calms their fears, eases their doubts, and gives them the strength and courage to proclaim without ambiguity the Good News is real and proclaims the truth.
Jesus tells them to go and be witnesses to these things that they have seen and heard to the world. My sisters and brothers, that is our task.
Like Peter and John, we are confronted daily by those who would try to sell the world fake news and engage in thought control because they fear and are threatened by God’s truth through Jesus. Like Jesus, Peter and John we are called to speak truth to the manipulative and malicious powers and principalities of the world that want to engage in undermining and destroying the truth of the Good News.
We do so confident that with God’s love, “we cannot” as Peter and John tell their accusers, “keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” in the life-giving Resurrection of Jesus our Savior. We must persist in witnessing this truth. We do so because we know that truth will set us free.