Whose Court Is It?

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Reflection on Acts 4

15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is manifest to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any one in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

When I studied for Acts 4, a commentator noted that all courts were religious courts. Josephus writes that the Sanhedrin was charged with ruling Judea but they could not put a person to death, only Rome could do that. This was mentioned in the Gospels about Jesus’ trial and in Acts in relation to Paul’s. There was NO separation of church and state. Any belief or idea, no matter how good, positive, or consistent with the Torah, was weighed in the balance of political expediency and social stability.

As an American, I don’t even really understand why you would take someone to court for healing someone, no matter in whose name. Why does it matter? I’m used to thinking that healing is a religious or a medical thing, not a government thing. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. But there’s the rub, there is nothing that is not God’s. The proverb is not about the separation of church and state, it’s about God’s ambivalence toward the things that we think are important. When I fixate on the latest political news to hit my FB feed at 5:45 in the morning, I’ve rendered unto Caesar. When I get all worked up about Bernie or Hillary or Trump, I’ve rendered unto Caesar. I’ve put God in a box and let “politics” be my Baál. I’ve already done the Sanhedrin’s job for them; they don’t need to drag me into court. Our secular courts make it illegal to feed the homeless in certain downtown areas. Will I feed the homeless enough for that to apply to me? No, I won’t.

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for all men praised God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.

Peter says “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”. Can I? Will I read enough Scripture to stop my sinus infection prednisone induced “roid rage” at the next angry caller at my job? Will I pray enough to smile at the chatty person in the break room when I just want to tell every human being to burn in flames and leave me the heck alone for 10 minutes? Perhaps a little more prayer and a little less junk food will help me remember the poor, work to fill the Lenten bags, and not be so self absorbed.

This Lent will crush me like it always does. I always fail at whatever Lenten resolution I set. But maybe, this year, I’ll learn to thank God for the crushing and crush others a little less. The only Court that matters, I won’t see until it’s too late.

May this Lent keep us mindful of the Almighty Judge so we judge others less and ourselves more.

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