Food for Thought-What’s In A Name A Homily on Acts 4:5-12

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Why do you do this? In whose name do you do this? By what power do you do this? Those are the questions asked of Peter and John when they’re hauled before the High Priest and assorted big wigs after healing a man in the temple. Take a step back. Ask yourself the same questions. Here you are, in church, in life, on Earth, and the Chief Priests of our day have posed the questions: “Why do you do this? In whose name do you do this? By what power do you do this?” How would you answer?

Peter wants to answer on the basis of his actions. He asks, “Are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed healed him?” Peter is putting a question back to the High Priest. Do you want to know the answer to these questions because I did something tangible (in this case make a sick person better)? Have you seen a specific action which has raised questions about our motivations and intentions? Peter’s question is important. He’s saying, “I’ve done something tangible and real. My motivation for doing this action (healing) is equally tangible and real.” Peter wants the high priest to realize his reasons for this simple healing are rooted in a simple explanation.

Look how Peter puts his explanation, the man is now healthy, “because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” Remember the guy you just killed, about two months ago, him; the one who was raised from the dead. It doesn’t get much simpler. There is a relationship between what we’ve done (and will continue to do) by restoring health and life to people and the death and life of a man you ordered executed. A life which you deemed to be worthless, subversive, and of no value carries a greater purpose and value since his death and resurrection. Notice what is absent from Peter’s answer and this text as a whole: a body. This isn’t a post-resurrection appearance. There are none after Acts 2. Jesus is physically absent from this scene, yet like Romeo’s spirit when Juliet realizes he’s dead, Romeo is everywhere. Jesus is present in name only. No wounds, no tombs, just words.

It’s amazing what emotions the name, presence, and memory of Jesus can evoke. Those words need not be uttered by priest, pastor, prince, or prophet. At the name of Jesus, Paul says, every knee shall bow and tongue confess, because he is a Lord who ate with prostitutes, embraced sinners of all shapes and sizes, and asks us to reorder and well-worn preconceptions about how we are convinced the world ought to run. You see, ultimately, it’s not about the name. It’s about the real, tangible guy behind the name. Are we worshiping a name? You can whoop and holler, “in the name of Jesus” until you’re blue in the face but the name of Jesus means nothing unless it is accompanied by Christ like actions of love, empathy, and grace. Maybe we ought to spend more time trying to live up to the actions and relationships of the man who held the name.

If we were to answer this same question, “why, whose, power” how simple could we be?

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