John thought: We are new men.
He saw the change that had come over Simon, whom the Lord called Peter, and he saw the change in himself.
Peter, filled with the Spirit at having just been liberated from prison by angels, was striding boldly back into the Temple courtyard, to the exact spot where he and John and the others had earlier been arrested for sedition. Some of those other disciples thought better of joining them now in another full-throated proclamation of the Kingdom. Why so soon again risk the wrath of the Sanhedrin?
Yet along the way the poor – in spirit, in wealth, in health – overmastered whatever fear they felt, their hope as great as their need, and had brought out sick and suffering people laid them on the streets on cots and mats, cradling some in their arms, so that when Peter passed by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. And they were healed! Every one of them.
So Peter and John, out from under the brilliant tekhelet sky, ducked now into the shade of the portico surrounding the Temple courtyard, and began greeting passersby, calling their attention to miracles.
This place, Herod’s Temple, had once held an awesome fascination for Simon (as he still thought of himself), and when he had been in the courtyard with Jesus, he had imagined the raised platform inside the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of G_d on earth, a remembrance of where in Solomon’s Temple the Ark of G_d’s Strength had once rested.
Now Simon Peter told the people that G_d’s Strength had stood right here beside him. The living, breathing G_d of spirit and of flesh had been here, and one day He would return.
A crowd gathered to listen: not large, but large enough to catch the eyes of the Temple priests.
Simon Peter knew, as the Lord had said, that before the first Temple was put to flame by Nebuchadnezzar, Zechariah had been sacrificed here on the altar of the court of the priests (and on Yom Kippur!), and that from here Jeremiah had been seized and thrown into prison for foretelling the fall of the city – he whom the Babylonian king then set free. And it was here that Jesus had prophesied the destruction of the temple of His body and the miracle of His resurrection, which Peter continued preaching, even as he saw the Temple guards coming towards them.
Peter was speaking Aramaic, not some foreign tongue, and this time his listeners didn’t think him drunk at midday, as others had on Pentecost, and instead of speaking about dreams or smoke or fire or blood upon the moon, he carefully explained – from Adam down to David – how Israel’s prophets had foretold Jesus.
To the Sadducees, of course, G_d’s own truth was blasphemy.
Peter’s audience hears the guards’ footfalls before they see the armed men, and they’ve already putting some distance between themselves and Peter, still listening – because Peter has not stopped preaching – but acting again like passersby, lovers of discussion, although their eyes are hardly full of love as they glance at the captain and the court officers, who are themselves grim-faced at having to arrest these Galilean troublemakers again.
And despite his newfound courage and that angelic intervention, Peter is frightened. For young John’s sake, he tells himself.
Peter and John are taken away, although not roughly, because the officers are afraid of being attacked by the people – more even than Peter is frightened of following the Lord to a cross. The guards lead the way through the open-air portion of the Hall of Hewn Stone and into the inner sanctum of the Sanhedrin where the seventy judges and the high priest were waiting.
Sentiment is very much in favor of swift and deadly justice: These devotees of the so-called Messiah deserve to follow their leader straight to the Place of the Skull. And there is no doubt that’s what would have happened, had G_d not moved in the soul of the great Gamaliel, a leader among the Pharisees, who stands up quickly to urge restraint. First though he asks that the Christians be removed from the Hall of Hewn Stone. No reason to let the others catch a glimpse of an unguarded meeting of the eyes between him and Simon, the fisherman, because Rabban Gamaliel is a secret convert, hiding his Christianity in order to protect his new brothers in Christ.
Gamaliel gathers his thoughts.
“Listen,” he tells the judges, “there have been other so-called prophets, and once they were done away with, their followers quickly disappeared.” He names Theudas and Judas the Galilean, whose followers disbanded and came to nothing.
Heads nod. You must admit, Gamaliel makes a good point.
And as we say in the Passover seder, Dayenu: that would have been enough. Enough blood. Say no more. But Gamaliel is a bold sage.
“Consider, my brothers,” he says, “that if the inspiration of these men is of human origin, it will surely destroy itself. On the other hand . . . if it comes from G_d, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves attacking G_d Himself.”
And so Peter and John are taken out and flogged, scourged but not crucified, and are grateful for their suffering.
Later that afternoon, the sun low in the sky, one of the Temple guards who had arrested them has to blink twice when he sees Peter and John back in the Temple proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus. A Pharisee is nearby and the guard, mouth agape, points to the Christians. The priest shrugs. But he walks over to the guard and whispers: “Don’t worry. They’ll be forgotten in a fortnight.”