The Sanhedrin had a tough time. Everything blew-up in their faces. They repeatedly tried to crush the Gospel, but it only spread further. Their fight with God was like throwing water on a grease fire. Trying to put it out, it only burned hotter.
Caiaphas, the high priest, calls for the death of Jesus, and unknowingly becomes a mouthpiece of the Gospel (Jn 11:49-52). They put Jesus on trial. They bring false witnesses against him. But a revelation of his true identity results (Mk 14:62). Jesus is crucified as a criminal, but proclaimed in three languages “the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19-20). Their plots turn on them: “in the snare they hide, their own foot is caught” (Ps 9:16). These reversals continue in their persecution of the disciples.
At Mass this Sunday we hear the beginnings of the apostolic proclamation. The Sanhedrin, again, tries to gain control. They arrest the apostles and command them “to stop teaching in that name.” But, again, their efforts backfire. Ironically, by attempts to silence the apostles, they themselves become evangelists.
The apostles proclaim God’s Messiah, but one rejected by the authorities. The Sanhedrin then amplifies this message. They provide a demonstration. The apostles are summoned before them (like Jesus), questioned and threatened (like Jesus), and beaten (like Jesus); all because (like Jesus) “we must obey God rather than men.”
In this way, the Sanhedrin, the enemy of the gospel, actually promotes it. Attempting to crush the memory of Jesus, they make him present again in the apostles. With a few violent strokes the Sanhedrin defeats itself, spreads the good news, and gladdens the apostles (Acts 5:41; Mt 5:11-12). These are revealing reversals. They point to a masterful Hand.
God, with subtlety and non-violence, employs even the machinations of the hardest hearts to accomplish his will. The Sanhedrin, “fighting against God” (Acts 5:39), inevitably serves him. Their plots become his victories: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the decision of the Lord that endures” (Prov 19:21).
In our day, Jesus is a liability. Confessing his name can have legal ramifications. Increasingly, business owners, doctors, pharmacists, and politicians face hard decisions: “do we obey God or men?” It is easy to get caught up in anxieties regarding the future of the church, the future of the Christian message. In our situation, the backfires of the Sanhedrin provide some comfort. God guides all events. He bends all to his provident will: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). God will provide his witnesses. Indeed, those who would silence the gospel may prove the greatest evangelists.
Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s reflections on the Scriptures.