|The Sánchez Archives
THIRD SUNDAY OF
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez
A Different Drummer
ACTS 5:27-32, 40-41
Among his many poignant vignettes, Mark Link once told an incident that happened during the great depression (1929-1939 C.E.). Jobs were scarce and when an opening was announced, dozens of applicants applied. On this particular occasion, they crowded into a waiting room, eager to be interviewed for the position of telegraph operator. The drone of their conversation competed against a steady background of dots and dashes. Suddenly, the door opened and yet another applicant entered the room. After standing there quietly for a moment, he walked to a door marked Private and knocked. The personnel director opened the door and announced to the others, You may all go now; this applicant has the job.
Furious and frustrated, the others demanded an explanation. At that, the director said, Listen! When the room became quiet, all heard the dots and dashes, repeating over and over the same message, If you hear this, come in; the job is yours. This story reminds us that God is constantly speaking to us, but, like the crowd of applicants, we are not always listening.
When we are attuned to God, however, and if we remain receptive to Gods continuing overtures, our lives are necessarily transformed by that exchange. Gods communications and our response to them will, more often than not, require that we live in juxtaposition or counter-culture to the world around us. When someone stands out from the crowd because of a certain uniqueness or eccentricity, he/she is said to be marching to the beat of a different drummer. When someone stands out from the crowd because he is listening to the whispers of God, he/she is recognized as a committed believer. In each of todays scripture readings, the gathered assembly is offered the example of several such believers.
In the first reading from Acts, Luke narrates the second arrest and interrogation of the apostles by the Jewish Supreme Court or Sanhedrin. Speaking for the others, Peter boldly defended the apostles teaching and preaching about Jesus. When the high priest demanded that Peter and company listen to him and obey his orders, the apostles made it clear that they were listening to and obeying a higher authority, viz., God.
John the seer, in the second reading from Revelation, shares with his readers an auditory vision. Privileged to witness a heavenly liturgy, he saw angels, living creatures and elders, too numerous to count. As he listened to their acclamation of God and the victorious Lamb, Jesus, he lent his voice to the great crescendo of praise and invited his readers to do likewise.
In the Johannine gospel, the risen Jesus is featured, speaking to his disciples. When they listen to his instructions their efforts at fishing are rewarded with a great catch of fish. When they listen to his invitation, he nourishes them with food. When they listen to his questions, Do you love me?, they are given a share in his ministry. . . Feed my sheep. When they question him about the future, he challenges, Follow me. Their faithful listening to Jesus would require that they march to the beat of a different drummer, not that the Jewish authorities, nor even the cadenced drum roll of Roman might. Eventually, their loyal listening would cause them to follow the same path that Jesus had struck, through suffering and death, to life everlasting.
Today, no less than two millennia ago the divine Drummer is tapping out the tempo of salvation. Today, as always, God continues to speak. . ., in the scriptures, through the sacraments, through the circumstances and exigencies of our lives, and through one another. Today, no less than two millennia ago, some will listen and in listening be transformed; some will not.
ACTS 5:27-32, 40-41
An avid proponent of the early English reformation, Hugh Latimer (1492-1555 C.E.) once said, Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side. So it had been with Jesus, so it would be with the believers who listened to him and committed themselves to following him. Loving leader that he was, Jesus prepared his disciples for what lay ahead and equipped them with the necessary resources to deal with persecution whenever and however it should come.
As Luke pointed out in his first volume, Jesus had forewarned his own that they would know trouble on his account: They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name (Luke 21:12). However, he had also assured them of his support. I myself will give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute (Luke 21:15). Moreover, Jesus encouraged his disciples to rely on the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit which God was ever eager to bestow: If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13). . . for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say (Luke 12:12).
As is reflected in todays excerpted reading from Acts, Peter and the apostles were experiencing the realization and fulfillment of all of these promises and assurances of Jesus. Therefore they were able to face the fearsome prospect of a second interrogation before an irate high priest with the courage of their convictions clearly in evidence.
In making their defense, Peter did not plead for understanding or mercy. Rather, he delivered a powerful proclamation of the kerygma (good news of salvation), appealing to those who would silence him and his message to come to believe as he did. Listening to, and obedient, only to God, Peter invited his listeners to repent of their unbelief and to recognize Jesus as their ruler and savior. The term for ruler, archegos in Greek, means pioneer or originator and was used to describe a trail-blazer or scout, who is sent ahead to strike a path and prepare the way. Jesus had been sent into the world by God to strike the path and blaze the trail that leads to salvation. Pioneer of peace and originator of justice, God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, has wrought the redemption of all humankind. Peter, further identified Jesus as soter, or savior, and announced that anyone who would repent of their sins and appropriate the saving work of Jesus, by faith, would be forgiven.
As is the case with all of Gods overtures to humankind, the gifts of forgiveness and salvation are not coercive. Freely tendered, they are to be freely accepted. The fact that the members of the Sanhedrin listened to the apostles but freely chose not to attend to their message is shown in their order that the apostles cease their saving ministry.
For their part, the apostles rejoiced in the realization that they were traveling the same path that Jesus had blazed. Strengthened by their confrontation, they resumed their preaching with renewed earnestness and zeal. For our part, contemporary disciples of Jesus are once again challenged to make the well-worn path of discipleship their own, bearing with every failure, rejoicing in every success.
In most wars, there are victors and there are losers and to the victors go the spoils of war. Through the centuries, the victorious have borne away from the battlefield, along with their scars, booty of every sort, from arms and precious art, to gems, and money, land, power and even people. When the triumphant warriors return home, laden with their treasures, there is great celebration and rejoicing as all seek their portion of the plunder. John, in todays second reading, shares with his readers a post-war victory celebration of far greater consequence than any merely human conflict. Jesus, the victorious Lamb, has returned home to heaven and to God, having conquered sin and death. Seeking none of the spoils of war for himself, Jesus has received the booty and blessings of his victory from God. William Barclay (Revelation, The Daily Study Bible, St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh: 1976) once called the gifts which God gave to Jesus the seven great possessions of the victorious risen Lord. These are: power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and praise (v. 12). As benefactors of Jesus triumph, believers are privileged to share in his seven great possessions as well.
At first reading, it may seem strange, that although the early Christians regarded the predatory lion as an apt symbol for Satan (see 1 Peter 5:8), they envisioned the conqueror of Satan and redeemer of the world as a lamb. An unusual designation for Jesus as messiah, the title Lamb has an interesting literary history. Jewish literary apocalyptic (Testament of Joseph 19:8) featured a conquering lamb, who crushed the beasts of evil and sin under his hooves. Deutero-Isaiah pictured the suffering, innocent servant as a lamb being led to the slaughter; the sacrificial death of this lamb brought salvation and healing to a sinful world (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Johns readers, who were familiar with Hebrew Scriptures, would also have recalled of the lamb which was sacrificed annually at Passover in remembrance and in celebration of Israels passing over from slavery in Egypt to freedom with God to the promised land.
In Johns vision, the figure of the risen Lord, or worthy Lamb on the heavenly throne, was representative of all of these literary motifs. Like the lamb of Jewish apocalyptic, Jesus was to be honored as the conqueror of sin and evil. Like the suffering, silent, innocent lamb of Deutero-Isaiah, Jesus was vindicated by God. The ultimate Passover lamb, Jesus once-and-for-all-sacrifice made it possible for every forgiven sinner and faithful believer to pass from death to life.
At every eucharistic celebration the worthy and victorious Lamb of God is invoked three times as the gathered assembly admits its need for forgiveness and gratefully acknowledges and acclaims its share in his seven great possessions. Lamb of God, who takes away sin, who conquers evil, who shares your triumph. . . have mercy on us. . . grant us peace.
While he was traveling with his disciples, before his death and resurrection, Jesus had told a parable of two sons. Both were requested by their father to go out and work in his vineyard. The first son refused, saying, I will not, but afterwards he changed his mind and decided to listen to his father. He went to the field and labored. The second son said that he would go but did not do so. Jesus used the parable to teach that repentant nay-sayers would find a welcome in the kingdom whereas the self-righteous who offered only lip-service to God would not (Matthew 21:28-31).
Like the two sons of Jesus parable, Peter, as featured in todays gospel, found himself faced with a decision. His relationship with Jesus had been built upon a series of yes and no responses. Initially, he had listened when Jesus called, Follow me, and had said yes to the challenge of discipleship. However, when Jesus was seized, bound and brought, first before Annas and then before Caiphas, Peters yes was silenced by a triple no; he denied being a disciple of Jesus three times (John 18:15-27). No doubt these denials were ringing in his ears as he saw the risen Jesus standing on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias (todays gospel). Perhaps he also remembered the parable of the two sons and others similar ones, when he recognized Jesus and jumped eagerly into the water. Peter was being blessed with an opportunity to make things right and to align himself once again with the tempo of Jesus drum.
In this beautiful account of an appearance of the risen Jesus to his own, Peter is forgiven and rehabilitated. Both his ministry, as symbolized by the great catch of fish and the triple mandate, Feed my sheep, as well as his relationship with Jesus, as signified in his response to Jesus triple inquiry, Do you love me?, were reinstated. Because Peter had changed his no to a yes, he became a beneficiary of the forgiveness and healing wrought by Jesus saving death. Moreover, he was held out by the Johannine evangelist as a model for every believer to emulate.
That Peters yes and faithful listening to Jesus would bring him hardship and a death similar to that of his master and friend is shown in the ominous reference in verse 18. Saying yes to Jesus daily would bring Peter into conflict with the religious and secular authorities of his day. Peter would be required, by virtue of his commitment to Christ, to live a lifestyle that would challenge the touted values and accepted moral standards of his contemporaries. Eventually, those so challenged would either come to believe or seek relief from their consciences by doing away with the source of their discomfort.
Those who chose to believe and turn their no to God into a yes would find a ready and warm welcome in the great fishnet which is the church. Notice that the number of fish caught by Peter and the others in this pericope is specified as 153. Jerome, in his commentary on this number, recognized it as the exact number of species of fish classified by ancient Greek zoologists. Referencing this fact, the Jonannine evangelist underscored the universal scope of the churchs saving ministry. Further confirmation of the all-encompassing work of salvation is signified by the detail: In spite of the great number (of fish), the net was not torn! (v. 11).
Had the fourth gospel ended with its initial conclusion (20:30-31), and had this epilogue [probably added by a disciple-redactor who shared the same general world of thought as the evangelist and desired more to complete the gospel than to change its impact. (Raymond E. Brown)] not been included, we may have been left wondering about Peter, and we would have missed yet another invitation to change our hearts and minds and lived response from no to yes.
[NOTE TO USERS: This archive is available for use without charge, but it remains the property of the author and under copyright with Celebrations Publications. Users are permitted to print individual Sunday commentaries for pastoral use, but are prohibited from downloading or copying files or printing any portion of this for sale or distribution.]
e-mail the Celebration editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.
The National Catholic
Reporter Publishing Company
115 E. Armour Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64111