But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared.
After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God!
They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
One of my favorite (and least known) characters in the Bible arrives in our first reading today: Gamaliel. He was a pretty big deal in the 1st century; his grandpa was Hillel the Elder, one of the most important rabbis in history, and Gamaliel himself was a great teacher who mentored St. Paul.
Let’s set the scene: Peter and some other apostles have just escaped from jail. Instead of going on the lam or hiding out in someone’s basement, they make the gutsy decision to go to the city center and preach about Jesus. They are rounded up brought before the Sanhedrin (the equivalent of the Jewish Supreme Court) and manage to get the court even angrier at them. In fact, scripture tells us that the judges “became infuriated and wanted to put [Peter and his companions] to death.”
Here’s where Gamaliel comes in. Rather than handing down a death sentence (like his colleagues and many people on the streets wanted), he says: “Have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
I struggle with this advice. On the one hand, Gamaliel’s words seem to imply that we don’t need to stand up for what we believe to be right. It sounds like he’s advocating ambivalence! However, I’ve come to appreciate the deep wisdom in his words. He’s not saying that we shouldn’t stand up for truth; he’s simply helping us recognize that some things are beyond our control. Often, we need to trust that the responsibility for righting all the wrongs of the world do not fall exclusively on our shoulders. As a Myers-Briggs ENTJ (sometimes called the “Commander”) and an Enneagram One (sometimes called the “Reformer”), it is sage advice that I need to hear.
When might you be called to “be a Gamaliel” and trust that God is in control?
—Mattie Olsen teaches theology at Creighton Prep.
God of constant presence, free my stubborn heart so that it may be open to your flow of grace. I do not wish to fight you. Push through the walls I build so that as your disciple I may be used to share your love with the world. Amen.
Please share the Good Word with your friends!