60 Second Reflections

April 16, 2021

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Did the most respected Jewish scholar in Jerusalem during the years 25 to 50 CE really stand up to his fellow members of the Sanhedrin to defend the apostles? Those same people who had so infuriated them with what they were teaching and preaching that they wanted them wiped from the face of the earth? Or was that just artistic license by Luke, the author of Acts of the Apostles? Acts is the second part of Luke’s presentation of biblical history, revealing the story of a Spirit-guided community spreading the Word of God. It is motivated by theological interests. But that does not mean it is devoid of factual worth. Gamaliel, grandson of the great Hillel, was likely a Pharisee. Certainly, the apostles’ teaching of the resurrection of Jesus matched that group’s belief in an afterlife, uniting them against their religious opponents, the Sadducees, who believed no such thing. Judas the Galilean and Theudas did in fact exist, although the latter did not raise his following until about 44 CE, years after Gamaliel’s speech. Still, the literal accuracy pales in comparison to the most important aspect of Luke’s story, that an activity of human origin will destroy itself, but if it comes from God, it cannot be destroyed. And if you fail to recognize that, you may even find yourself fighting God, as were the majority of the Sanhedrin. Gamaliel, a greatly honored and influential doctor of the law, evidenced his true intelligence by comprehending that vital truth. Did the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus, as it is familiarly called, actually occur? The fact that it is the only miracle story found in all four gospels, indeed twice in Matthew and Mark, makes that overwhelmingly likely. Of course, the details change in all the versions. For example, John tells us that Jesus, not the disciples, takes the initiative in feeding the multitude by asking Philip where enough food could be found. Only in John does Jesus take just the loaves, not the fish, give thanks and distribute them. It has been theorized that for John’s community this explained the origin of the eucharist, since in the fourth gospel the last supper experience was the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. But, like the description of Gamaliel’s speech, the literal accuracy pales in comparison to the most important aspect of that story, that we have a God of infinite compassion, who cares for us in all the ways we hunger and shows us how to do the same with each other. And that is not just artistic license. Acts 5:34-42; Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14; Jn 6:1-15

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