Employers often when they are interviewing someone for a job will pose a hypothetical question like “If you were on a desert island and could only bring three books with you which ones would they be?” or “If you could have dinner with any person living or deceased, who are they?” I wonder if people are being asked in tele-interviews these days “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when all of this is over?”
The point of those hypothetical questions is to get a sense of what values, priorities a person has – what is of greatest importance to them, what brings meaning to their lives. Just seeing people’s posts on facebook and hearing random conversations people are looking forward to anything and everything from being able to actually be face to face with people (rather than on face time skype or zoom) to going to the gym or a movie. Some of us really need a haircut (or as my mother pointed out the beard to be trimmed). But it’s an interesting thing for us to think about, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when all of this is over?
That question came to mind reading today’s first scripture from the Acts of the Apostles (you can read them here). The Acts of the Apostles is really an amazing book that if you’ve never done it before, you really need to read it from the beginning to end on it’s own (and since we’re all still locked down, I really suggest it – probably won’t take you more than an hour) because it’s all about the Church after Jesus’ Resurrection, after His Ascension into Heaven and after Pentecost -when Jesus sends His Holy Spirit upon the Early Church to now fully equip them to fulfill His command to Go out to all the world and proclaim the Gospel. Reading it you get to see the effect the Resurrection of Jesus Christ… you get a sense of the power that the Holy Spirit unleashes… in the lives of the apostles. These same men who in the Gospels are often found succumbing to fear, falling back into old patterns of behavior, who miss (or ignore) what Jesus is trying to say to them – in the Acts of the Apostles they are quite different men. Through the power of Jesus Christ, they are able to do amazing things and miraculous feats. There’s a courage, a boldness that you didn’t see before.
That’s what we saw in today’s passage – Peter and the rest of the apostles have been thrown in jail. They were curing people, healing them of disease, casting out demons… All of the signs and wonders that first attracted people to Jesus were continuing in the life of the Church through the apostles (just as He promised it would). Not surprisingly, those who were threatened with Jesus before were obviously still not fans that His work, His message was continuing. They thought they had eliminated this threat to themselves in killing Jesus, now the numbers are multiplying.
Which is why the apostles find themselves locked in prison… and no doubt thoughts entered that, perhaps they were headed for a similar fate that Jesus suffered – or even worse (if that’s possible, which sadly with the Romans, it probably was who came up with all kinds of diabolical things). Miraculously in the middle of the night, we heard, the angel of the Lord appeared and freed them from the prison.
What was the first thing they did when they were freed? They went right back to what they were doing before. Boldly, confidently, openly proclaiming Jesus Christ right in public, right there in the temple.
It’s easy to dismiss that and say – well they had just had this miraculous thing occur, didn’t the angel specifically say to them Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life. True. But these were the same men who saw Jesus raise people from the dead – yet were nowhere to be found during his passion and death. That’s not to throw them under the bus and keep bringing up past failures – but rather to point out that their decision to make Jesus the first thing in their lives as they are freed from the prison was indeed a choice for them. They could’ve just as easily given into fear “what if we get caught again,” given into worry “what if the angel isn’t able to save us again ” given into doubt “we were lucky once, we might not be so lucky the next time…”
The reality is, spoiler alert – for all of the apostles (except for John) they will eventually all be martyred (and John is the lucky one… they tried to kill him by boiling him in oil in the middle of the Colosseum but even though they threw him in the boiling oil, miraculously he didn’t die a gruesome death – which led to even more people converting and then John being exiled to the Greek island Patmos). The point is, eventually there great fears, worries, doubts would be realized.
But by then, they had truly put themselves in God’s hands. In the deepest recesses of their hearts and souls, the promises that Jesus had made, had been their single minded hope and focus. Those promises which we heard proclaimed in this Gospel – which is considered the most famous scripture verse -you see it on TV or bumper stickers all the time saying John 3: 16
God so loved the world
that He gave His only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in Him
might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through Him.
The apostles believed those things in the deepest core of their beings. But that didn’t just happen this one day. That came after years of following, of falling, of getting back up again and following again. It was deciding after numerous times before when it hadn’t been the case, that this time, this time the first thing they were going to do is put Jesus first. And each time after that, despite whatever trial, whatever obstacle, whatever thing it was that could undermine or obliterate their faith – was to keep doing the same. To keep focused on Him, to turning back to Him, to keep believing, keep trusting that Jesus was who He said He was… and that His promises were meant for them – whether that meant being realized in a miraculous way like being released from a prison – or in the life to come, where the fullness of life in Him is beyond our imaginations.
It’s good for us to want things to go back to normal. For all of us this has moved form being discomforting, weird, unsettling to really really jarring and unnerving. Many of us, myself included are experiencing a whole wide variety of feelings, emotions: anxiety, fear, worry – depression, loneliness – which is completely understandable.
But as people of faith, we come together renewing ourselves with confidence that Jesus risen from the dead, dies no more, remains with us here and now. That is our faith and we have to proudly and boldly profess that here and now to comfort us and reassure us, and to help us not just survive these challenging times but even to more miraculously, to thrive.
And one way to thrive, as people of faith is to prepare our hearts, and our minds, and our vision to start asking the question – What’s the first thing I’m going to do when this is all over… And think past some of the superficial stuff, to how will I live my life differently. Maybe I’m assessing or reassessing relationships, priorities, values – which is a really good thing to do. And a way to sanctify this time that’s been visited upon us particularly if as we do that self reflection we feel we’re not being the people Jesus calls us to be, people who are drawn to truth, to light, to Him.
We can draw inspiration from our ancestors in the faith, the apostles. They were able to become men so convicted that they were able to recognize God’s action among them that in thanksgiving it compels them to be even more committed to spending and shedding their very lives for the Gospel. May that be true of us, that the first thing we do when all of this is over be the only thing that really matters: glorifying the Lord by our very lives.