“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39 (NRSV)
Being a playwright, I love a good dramatic moment, and I have always loved the moment described in today’s chapter. Going back to Jesus’ triumphant entry, there there had been so much emotional reaction to everything:
- The crowds are stirred up in passionate support of Jesus, proclaiming Him their next king
- Religious leaders reacted to Jesus’ teaching and popularity by plotting to kill Him
- The crowds are stirred up in violent opposition to Jesus, calling for His death
- Jesus’ followers first react in fear and run for their lives
- Jesus’ followers then react in wonder as they encounter the risen Christ
- Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem in confidence, proclaim the resurrection, and lead a massive revival in which thousands choose to follow
- The public reacts by thronging from all over the region to Jesus’ followers seeking healing
- The high priest and religious leaders react by throwing the disciples in prison
I can only imagine what complete chaos it must have felt like to have been swept up in the events of that time and place. I have experienced a few moments when events stirred massive reactions in the public socially and politically. 9/11 is perhaps the most intense, but I even think about the extreme reactions on all sides of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore in recent months. There are times when everything and everyone seem out of control.
Into the maelstrom of events in Jerusalem the the wise, aged Gamaliel stepped. Drama is created with conflict and/or extreme contrasts, and in this case we find Gamaliel providing a sudden and stark contrast to all of the chaos. Amidst the screaming he speaks softly. Amidst the unbridled emotions he is peaceful. Amidst the extreme editorializing he provides reason. He talks the religious leaders off the ledge. Chill. Let it go. Let this play out.
Today, I’m realizing my age. I don’t have the emotional energy to get stirred up with a young man’s passion as I once did. Like the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, I find increasing peace in accepting the things I am powerless to change including public reactions and socio-political emotions. At the same time, I accept my responsibility to act reasonably and fulfill my civic duties. In doing so, I hope that I can model Gamaliel when necessary to bring quiet peace and reason amidst unreasonable reactions.