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Forty, less one

From Deuteronomy 5:1-3, we know that Jewish councils were permitted to order a maximum of thirty nine lashes of the whip in order to maintain law and order, or if moral or ritual offences against the Mosaic law was committed.

Forty, less one

By Fr. Warner D'Souza

(2nd week of Easter-Friday-Acts 5:34-42)
Some years ago, during a retreat, the preacher said something that has since become an integral part of my priestly ministry. In consulting his spiritual director over the matter of accepting a post in the congregation, he was told the following by his spiritual director, “If you have in any way exercised influence to obtain this post, then know that you will fail even if you get the post; if not, it is God’s will and you will succeed.”

Most of us wrangle for jobs or services often with good intentions. But over a period of time nothing seems to go right, no matter how qualified we are or how well-meaning our belief may be. It has been my own experience that when God has ordained for you a task, no matter how ill equipped you may think you are to run it, you will succeed, for this is His idea.

It was God’s idea to send us a Saviour who though He endured suffering, was to rise again so that we would share in the same grace. All this was a bit too much for the Sanhedrin led by Caiaphas who had plotted the death of the “author of life” and now wished the same for His disciples.

No matter how often Peter and the apostles were told not to utter or preach in the name of Jesus, they were not to be silenced. Peter lost no opportunity to bear witness to the name of Jesus, and the trial before the Sanhedrin simply provided him with another opportunity to proclaim his belief. Laying the death of Jesus squarely on the Jewish religious establishment, he so incensed the authorities that they “wanted to kill them.”

It took the intervention of Gamaliel, an illustrious Jewish doctor of the law, to intervene in this death sentence. We are told he was a Pharisee and a member of the council, a teacher of the law who was respected by all. We also know from Acts 22:3 that he was a teacher of St. Paul.

Gamaliel’s intervention uses the experiential approach. He cites two examples (often disputed by scripture scholars as doubtful) of men in recent past who attempted to sway the Jewish people. These men met with some success in their belief that they were sent as “messiahs” to the house of Israel. Gamaliel argues that both Theudas and Judas the Galilean, perished and their followers were scattered.

Gamaliel’s point highlights divine will as being the supreme determiner to weed out fraudulent intentions. For Gamaliel, God is in charge, and if the apostles were indeed imposters like the other two names he cited, then this mission would fail. The flip side of the matter is interesting; for if this work is indeed God’s, then the Jewish establishment would find themselves on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of God.

Through his logical presentation of the case, Gamaliel spared the life of the apostles but he could not spare them from the bruised ego of the council who could not simply let the apostles go with just a slap on the wrist; this time they demanded blood from their backs and had them flogged.

From Deuteronomy 5:1-3, we know that Jewish councils were permitted to order a maximum of thirty nine lashes of the whip in order to maintain law and order, or if moral or ritual offences against the Mosaic law was committed.

The ‘stripes’ of Jesus were shared by His apostles, and they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of THE name. The result of such a beating would have sent most ‘sane men’ scampering home; not the twelve who were now EVERY DAY in the temple and at home teaching and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.

For many today, being a disciple of Jesus is a reality taken lightly. I wonder if there would be takers for thirty nine lashes of the whip!

(Fr. Warner D'Souza is the priest-in-charge, St. Jude Church, Malad East) with permission)

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