UCH INSIGHT CAN BE GAINED from reading the Gospel accounts of what transpired in the first weeks after the Resurrection. In the last chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord appears to some of the Apostles. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two others have returned—in so short a time—to their old jobs as fishermen. Everything seems peaceful enough, but the Apostles have not begun to spread the Gospel message like we might have expected them to do. They just went back to work, trying to reel in fish. But Jesus had commissioned them, of course, not to be simple fishermen, but to become “fishers of men.”
A very different scene is recounted in Acts, chapter 5. Here, some time has passed since the events of our Lord’s Passion & Resurrection, and the Apostles have begun to live out their mission of spreading the Good News. We read that they “filled Jerusalem with [their] teaching.” The experience isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, though. The court officers, the Sanhedrin, and the high priest challenge the Apostles and command them to stop preaching the name of Jesus. The Apostles wisely refuse to go along, saying that “we must obey God rather than men.” They will not let their mission be stifled by the powers-that-be.
Faith is not a private matter. Faith, by its very nature, is meant to be shared. It is ordered outward. In fact, it is probably fair to say that anyone who keeps his faith to himself has no faith at all. True faith is trumpeted. We may not live in a world with high priests and the Sanhedrin, but we are constantly commanded by the world to keep quiet about our faith. We must not let the voices of secular society rule the day, though. We are no less called to be fishers of men than were the Apostles. We cannot allow our faith to be silenced. We’ve got to put out into the deep.
The Apostles’ defiance of the establishment took courage, and it brought upon them a certain degree of suffering. In the words of the reading, “They left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.” Have you ever suffered “for the sake of the Name”? Maybe you’ve been discounted as unthinking or sentimental because you are a person of faith. Perhaps you’ve been teased by coworkers or friends for not eating meat on Fridays. Maybe you’ve been labeled a hypocrite or a do-gooder or a Jesus freak. Speaking personally, there once was a time when walking around my neighborhood in Northeast Philly dressed as priest would have drawn respect. I assure you, those days are passed, so there are frequent opportunities to suffer a bit for Christ simply by presenting myself as one of His ministers. These little sufferings are part of discipleship. They test us and strengthen our resolve to follow Him.
In the face of the Resurrection, we can’t just go back to life as it was. If we are true believers, then we have been changed. We can’t go back to our old ways. We have to speak out about the faith we have received and all that it has done for us. Just like the Apostles “filled Jerusalem” with their teaching, we need to fill our own neighborhoods with our testimony. Shout from the rooftops what Christ has done for us! People will tell us to be quiet. They’ll tell us not to impose our beliefs on them. They’ll tell us to be tolerant, while failing to tolerate us. In all these circumstances, however, we can choose to be like the Apostles and rejoice to be “found worthy of suffering dishonor for the sake of the Name.”