In today’s reading from Acts, the religious leaders of the synagogue did not trust that God would reveal things about Godself to ordinary, uneducated people rather than working through the structures and hierarchy set in place for such purposes. They did not believe these folks could have something valid to teach them about God, or that they could be instruments of God’s work.
Unfortunately, these scenarios seem to run threadlike through the ages of our Church. Too frequently, revelation is not trusted unless it comes through "proper" channels and from the top. Whether originating in science, theology, or the sensus fidelium, the more unexpected and incisive something is, the greater the difficulty believing and accepting it. Rather than shake up current beliefs, we rely on the past and revert to it for comfort and security.
Before being too quick to condemn these leaders, though, we must remember the Gospel reading, in which the disciples themselves didn’t trust a woman who said she’d experienced the Lord nor believe she could bring a message from God to them. Further, they refused to believe two people from outside their ranks who encountered Christ. They resisted any other channel than personal experience and direct revelation (which thankfully was eventually provided to them).
It is reassuring to note that Jesus did not condemn the disciples for their hardness of heart and lack of faith. In fact, after pointing it out, he sent them forth again to spread the gospel. Their admonishment most likely served them well when they found themselves on the other side of the coin. When the leaders of the synagogue refused to believe them, perhaps they felt a sense of compassion. Having known the experience personally, having wrongly dismissed the revelations of others, they faced the opposition with greater calm and with the simple determination to press on without being deterred.
In truth, all of us have areas where our hearts have become hardened. How often have I failed to believe because I don’t judge the source to be "worthy"? How often have I dismissed those with less formal knowledge or experience as having little to teach me? How many times have I engaged in a "discussion" about faith that is really an exercise in defending my own position? How frequently have I missed a word from God because it was coming from an unexpected person or in a situation I didn’t anticipate? Yet all things and all people can be used by God to bring new life if we are open to the surprising ways that God reveals Godself.
This, then, becomes my prayer through this Easter season:
May we open ourselves to God’s Spirit, who tries so hard to roll away the stones keeping us imprisoned and deaf to the life God offers.
May we nurture the faith and honor the experience of those in our lives, discovering and learning from the gifts they hold.
May we let go of our expectations and images of how God works, so that God can transform us in ever-new ways.
May we open the murky tombs of our souls to the unexpected, so God can delight us with insights, grace, and yes, resurrection.
And finally, like the disciples, in spite of our unbelief and hardness of heart, may we be worthy messengers, commissioned to go out and spread the gospel to the world.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.