One member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee called Gamaliel, who was a doctor of the Law and respected by the whole people, stood up and asked to have the apostles taken outside for a time. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin, ‘Men of Israel, be careful how you deal with these people. There was Theudas who became notorious not so long ago. He claimed to be someone important, and he even collected about four hundred followers; but when he was killed, all his followers scattered and that was the end of them. And then there was Judas the Galilean, at the time of the census, who attracted crowds of supporters; but he got killed too, and all his followers dispersed. What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go. If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God.’
His advice was accepted; and they had the apostles called in, gave orders for them to be flogged, warned them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. And so they left the presence of the Sanhedrin glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name.
They preached every day both in the Temple and in private houses, and their proclamation of the Good News of Christ Jesus was never interrupted.
Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.
Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.
There is a small boy here… but what is that between so many?
‘Five loaves and two fish’ has become a kind of common speech for ‘offering up whatever little we have for God’s glory’. But before this scene of the little boy and his lunchbox contents slips away into a kind of taken-for-granted expectation of being Christian, may we pause to find the unlikely mirror-image for this boy’s offering in the first reading of Acts about Gamaliel.
Gamaliel is our unlikely hero amongst the Pharisees. In fact, to call someone a ‘Pharisee’ these days would be to label them a self-righteous hypocrite, steeped in the Law but empty in the heart and actions. Out of our convenient assumptions, Gamaliel comes forward to halt the Sanhedrin (or council assembly) from passing a hasty death penalty on Jesus’ first apostles. He notes that many so-called messiahs have come before Jesus, Theudas and Judas the Galilean, and gathered up a force of followers; but once they were killed, their supporters dispersed. Gamaliel then advises the Sanhedrin to be cautious against making the mistake of going against God.
What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go […] if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God.’ (Acts 4:38-39)
Gamaliel was not only a wise man, but indeed a man of God. His ability to read the situation of those times is an indication firstly, that his deep knowledge of the Law translated to a keen discernment of God’s promptings to do the right thing. He was not acting on heady emotions and vengeance, but sought first the Kingdom of God. In the Ignatian tradition of discernment, he would have been aware of the spirit of consolation arising from his decision to ask for the release of the apostles. Secondly, he was unafraid to highlight the shortsightedness of the Sanhedrin. Though he was widely respected, who knew what a mob his fellowmen could turn into? Yet he stood for his beliefs bravely. Lastly, the person of Gamaliel cautions us against jumping to conclusions about a person by virtue of his/her social class, race, religion, or any affiliations. We are often surprised that God would use someone who appears vastly different from us to do His work, or save his people. Unlike us, God is not bias.
Back to the little bread boy. Gamaliel and the boy have something in common — they were close to God. The little boy being a child, was naturally trustful and sensitive to the unconditional reception he would receive by offering his lunchbox, and essentially himself. I am sure he would have shuddered somewhat thinking of the ridicule he might receive. What?! Five barley loaves and two fish, seriously?? Yet, he came forth. Likewise, the apostle Andrew must have fought the feeling of foolishness. We are told that Jesus was trying to teach the overly-rational Philip a lesson: He only said this to test Philip; […] Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’
How do we become like Gamaliel and the little bread boy? Through prayer. It is necessary that we return to our childlike selves to sit with God in silence and listen attentively to our Father’s love and words — to meditate and contemplate. Perhaps the swirling and confusing decisions we have to make in our daily lives will disperse to bring us greater clarity about the most life-giving course of action to take. Even a Pharisee like Gamaliel responded to his inner child, how about us?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Lord, I want to come to you in silence, more than I have ever ventured. I pray for the grace of this discipline to trust you in stillness and surrender, instead of the constant bustling I tend to do.
Thanksgiving: We give You thanks Lord, for the inspirations of every moment, when the Holy Spirit gently nudges us to the right decisions, through our practice of sensitive listening.