12/25 April OS 2017: Tuesday of Thomas Week; S. Basil of Parium, Bishop and Confessor
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is Acts 4: 1-10.
And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.
Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
St. Peter has just now healed the lame man by the Beautiful Gate of the Temple and immediately preached the Resurrection of Jesus to the gathered multitude who beheld the miracle. His preaching is a condensed version of his great sermon on Pentecost: “You folks killed your Messiah, Jesus, but now He is Risen, and He will forgive you and save you, granting you the Resurrection also, if only you believe in Him.” Five thousand men convert on the spot. Now, predictably, he gets into trouble, but (also predictably) this does not faze him. He goes right on telling the truth even to those who do not want to hear it, the priests and Sadducees, who have a vested interest in the truth not being true.
St. John Chrysostom points out that these corrupt men are not afraid to arrest the Apostles unjustly and publicly. They had arrested Jesus at night by stealth, but on the basis of their (as they thought) success in getting away with this, they have become bold to persecute the Master’s followers in broad daylight, as publicly as possible:
But I wish you to consider, how those same persons, who in the case of Christ must need look out for one to deliver Him up to them, now with their own hands arrest the Apostles, having become more audacious and more impudent since the Crucifixion. In truth, sin, while it is yet struggling to the birth, is attended with some sense of shame; but when once fully born, it makes those more shameless who practice it. – St. John Chrysostom, Homily 10 on the Acts of the Apostles
St. Chrysostom is making an important point here: The audacity of the Sadducees is like that of any sinner. You get away with something – as you think – once, and you become less afraid to commit the sin. Of course, we never really get away with anything, for there is an Impartial Judge Who sees all and will judge all. We know that, but we can go right on sinning. Just as the Sadducees knew that Jesus really had risen from the dead, but they kept lying to themselves, so we are quite capable of lying to ourselves.
Moreover, their deep-down guilt, paining their hearts despite all their self-deceit, makes them downright angry against the Apostles for clearly proving by their preaching and miracles that Jesus really had risen from the dead and therefore must be the Messiah and the Son of God. It is a classic case of “shoot the messenger.” We can act the same way when someone points out our sins and failings, not only not hearing them but even turning against them.
St. Peter was not made of different stuff from the Sadducees. He was a sinful man as they were sinful men, and he had betrayed the Lord from cowardice when put on the spot. But he repented right away, and now, after the Resurrection, he has become as bold as a lion. When we repent, when we are ruthlessly honest with ourselves about our sins and passions, and we confess them cleanly and clearly, we receive infinite divine power to be bold in our Faith. At that point, the Lord can work in us, because then it is completely clear that it is God’s divine power, the grace unleashed by the Resurrection of Christ, acting in us, not because of our worthiness but because of His mercy. This is how it works.
After Pascha, we can become lazy and indifferent to spiritual struggle – “That was for Lent; now I’ll just ‘enjoy myself’.” This decision bears the bitter fruits of falling back into denial, lack of self-awareness, indifference to sin. This in turn makes our faith dull: far from being the living power of God living and acting in us, our Faith becomes again only ethnic or family identification or a set of dead propositions or some kind of group membership. If persecution or death finds us in this state, we will be in trouble.
In order to roar like lions before the unbelieving world, we need to be meek as lambs in the saving tribunal of confession, cleanly confess all of our faults as frequently as possible, and acquire peace and purity of heart. Then the power of the Resurrection will fill our souls, and nothing in heaven, on earth, or under the earth will frighten us.