Sometimes the very best answer to a question is: “It depends“. That’s because the specifics and circumstances are important and the context matters. As a for-instance, would you take a big bag full of gold coins and throw it overboard if you were paddling across a huge lake in a kayak? Most likely, you would not. I’m pretty sure I would not. But what if you had a small leak in your kayak and were taking on water? And what if losing the coins could reduce the weight in your boat just enough to prevent it from sinking? Well then, depending on how far from shore and how good a swimmer you are, you might very well toss that bag of gold coins overboard without hesitation.
So, would you throw a bag full of gold coins overboard in the middle of a big lake? The answer is: it depends. The context matters.
The entire story of our faith is another way of saying: the context matters. That’s because Jesus came and changed everything. There was the before Jesus and then there was the after.
We know this because of what happened to his followers, the eye witnesses to the ministry and the miracles… his friends, those who knew him best of all and who carried on just as he had asked them to. They forgave, served, were merciful, and were impressively brave in the face of great personal danger. Something happened to them. What exactly? I would say that they received a massive dose of context and it came in the form of seeing the one who was tortured and killed… and then seeing that same person return to them after. Not as a ghost or vision, but as someone who was alive again, standing right there in front of them and who would share a meal with them, as he does in today’s Gospel story.
The Acts of the Apostles, which chronicles the followers of Jesus after the resurrection, describes a very different version of the disciples from the ones we saw before, on Good Friday. On Good Friday, Jesus was abandoned by them. One of them betrayed him. One of them, Peter, whom he had hand chosen to be the leader after he was gone, denied even knowing him – three times no less. Only one stayed behind to witness the crucifixion. All the others ran for their lives and hid. Can you blame them? They were convinced, and for good reason, that if they were found to be disciples of the one hanging up on that cross, they would probably end up hanging off of one themselves.
But then, something happened to them…
In today’s first reading, the apostles were questioned by the officials who were trying to figure out what they were up to. They were being accused of doing exactly what they were warned not to do, that is preaching about Jesus, and then low and behold it was Peter of all people who said: “We must obey God rather than men.” In fact, when they were all scolded and told to stop… or else… scripture tells us that they left “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”
They were threatened, yet they rejoiced. They were happy that they could be considered worthy of such a threat. And unbelievably, that thing they feared so much, suffering the same fate as Jesus, now they would accept, welcome even. This is a stunning turnaround. It is also, to me, a stunning proof of the resurrection itself. Can you think of any other reason they would experience such change of heart? Such a dramatic turnaround?
Context can do that to you. It can make you see the world in a completely new way.
So, the question for us today, now that it’s after Easter and after the resurrection, is: what does that same context do to you and me? How does it impact our lives, if at all?
Are we the before or are we the after?
Do we live as the disciples did on Good Friday, filled with fear and worry? Or do live in hope, realizing that there is a bigger picture, a greater reward that awaits us?
Do we believe that we are the centers of our own universes and value self-determination and taking care of number one? Or do we live lives oriented toward the care and compassion of others, favoring mercy and forgiveness instead?
Do we care about popular opinion, letting our culture tell us what is most important, dictating what we do or how to think? Do we heed the warnings of modern day officials and influencers… or, like the disciples, do we shrug off what they have to offer and even take pride in being worthy of their criticism and threats?
Do we live our lives as though the resurrection never happened, as though those who knew him best didn’t undergo the single greatest turnaround in history, and as though the story ended completely with Good Friday?
Or… are we ready to live our lives with more perspective, taking the longer view, and realizing that there is a bigger picture here? The bigger picture is the context. And that context is about freedom and salvation.
So, are you the before or are you the after?