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Ashley McKinlessApril 21, 2023
Photo by Jonathan J. Castellon on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Find today's readings here.

“I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone;
because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail;
but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them
—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39).

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we witness some riveting courtroom drama. The disciples have been arrested for the second time for refusing to obey the Sanhedrin’s order to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. After escaping jail with the help of an angel, the apostle are brought back before the council to stand trial, where the consensus seems they ought to be put to death.

But then a well-respected Pharisee named Gamaliel intervenes and reminds the Sanhedrin that other false prophets have gained followings before, and when they died, their men scattered. Better to not makes martyrs of the apostles; if what they preach is false, their movement will eventually fade out. But if what they preach is true, their executioners “may even be found fighting against God.”

What if we took more of a three-date rule to our faith lives? Not sure if lectio divina is for you? Try it three times and see if it bears fruit.

In a way, this prudent Pharisee was making Pascal’s wager (maybe the French philosopher was even inspired by him!): If Jesus was a fraud, the cost of letting the Apostles go is tiny; if Jesus is truly who he says that he is, killing his Apostles will come at a very high price for you.

But I think Gamaliel also models a perhaps undervalued method of discernment, a “let’s just wait and see” approach. It can be tempting to make summary judgments about people, opportunities and events, as most of the Pharisees have done with regard to the Apostles. But there is value sometimes in letting things play out for a bit so you can see what fruit this new thing bears. I have a friend who has a rule that she will (almost) always go on three dates with someone before deciding if this is someone she might want a relationship with. Yes, maybe he was awkward on the first date, but if it isn’t meant to be, two more isn’t much of a cost—and if it is meant to be, what a thing to lose out on!

What if we took more of a three-date rule to our faith lives? Not sure if lectio divina is for you? Try it three times and see if it bears fruit. Skeptical of more traditional liturgies? Give it three Sundays and what it stirs in you. Nervous about joining your parish’s small group? You get the idea.

The ongoing synod on synodality is in a sense a whole experiment based on the wait-and-see approach. We are being invited to conversation not with a specific goal or decision to be made but to sit with what we hear and to see where God is at work. And perhaps the stakes would feel a little lower if we believed Gamaliel’s council that what is purely of human origin will fail, and what comes from God cannot be stopped.

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