Acts of the Apostles is our only canonical version of the early growth of the Jesus-believing community (cf. the Gospels, where we have four accounts), and so it is immensely formative in the tradition of what we assume happened. That we count on the reliability of these events does not preclude our understanding that they are presented as stylized and intertextual, that is, where characters in Acts resemble Jesus, who himself resembles his earlier forebears. This observation is not to suggest that Peter and others did not do as Jesus had done or that he did not act as other biblical characters had done—and I am thinking here about prophetic and courageous resistance to abusive authority. But that the Scripture underlines it by re-using similar motifs makes the resemblance doubly striking, renders it actual and symbolic as well.
In today’s first reading, two disciples-become-leaders courageously refuse to obey or even to be intimidated by unjust and threatening authorities, as Jesus did, and as OT prophets did (as David’s prophet Nathan and Amos and Jeremiah resist their kings, among others). We are offered a deep well of such situations for our reflection, and are prompted among other things to wonder why religious and civic authorities (or those who combine both roles) so often require such resistance from prophets. I don’t think our way forward here is the sort of abstraction that says God’s rule is enough, we don’t need humans (a thing one hears surprisingly often). I think, rather, that what we can see when we probe both the biblical tradition and contemporary situations is that the authorities whom the prophets resist mistake their own position, their personal interests, and their limited will for something that is much larger and oriented in a completely different direction. There’s more to God’s project with monarchic Israel/Judah than what a King Jeroboam or the royal Jehoiakim or Zedekiah think will help their personal survival, and of course more to God’s dealings with the first-century Jews than their leaders we hear of in today’s episode can calculate. The same point can be examined for current Church leaders, in my opinion, and a similar sort of prophetic situation is present. What will courageous prophets do, yes. But also why is it so constantly necessary?
Barbara Green, O.P.