Daily Reflection
April 16th, 2007

Dennis Hamm, S.J.

Theology Department
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Acts 4:23-31
Psalm 2:1-3, 4-7a, 7b-9
John 3:1-8

That passage from Acts 4 is one of my favorite moments in the whole Bible. Most people hardly ever get to hear it or read it. Yet it is the only passage in the New Testament portraying a Christian community at prayer, and giving the content of their prayer as well.

In the aftermath of the healing of the man born lame at the temple gate, Peter and John have been brought before the Sanhedrin and have been asked by what power they have done this thing. When they say it was by the power of the risen Jesus, they are instructed to keep quiet about this “dead man.” They reply that they cannot stop speaking about what they have seen and heard. By this time, the Pentecost holiday crowds are so excited by this spectacular healing that the officials feel compelled to let Peter and John go free.

They then return to the growing community of Jerusalem Christians and report what the chief priests and elders had said to them, which is where today’s first reading commences. At this point, they collectively raise their voices in a prayer that Luke ascribes to the entire community:

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them . . . [they begin, addressing the Creator in the traditional Jewish way . . .]

it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Anointed.’

[This is the beginning of Psalm 2, which they attribute to David, the traditional author of all the psalms. And now they begin to interpret those ancient words as fulfilled in current events right there in Jerusalem the past few days:]

For in this city, in fact, both Herod [a king] and Pontius Pilate [a ruler], with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel gathered together against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and plan had predestined to take place. [Notice how each key word of the psalm text is interpreted in terms of the events of Passion Week.]

[They continue,]
And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand . . .

[If you are familiar with the rest of Psalm 2, which is rather nationalistic and belligerent, you expect them to ask God to stretch out his hand to smite their adversaries, but their prayer takes quite a different turn; they pray that God stretch out his hand. . .]

to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

So this prayer turns out to be a terrific example of Jesus’ followers living according to his teaching about responding nonviolently to hostility, and not at all in the belligerent spirit of Psalm 2. The result is a mini-Pentecost:

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

What a magnificent model of a community responding to a hostile situation with a prayer, using Scripture to interpret their experience in the light of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They simply pray to be empowered to continue his preaching and healing mission.

Isn’t that exactly what we are about, too?

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