Hans Walter Wolff, a Lutheran Scripture scholar, often said that the Bible teaches proper obedience and proper disobedience: obedience to the word of God; disobedience to those who would lead us away from that word.

Though he never had St. Luke in any of his classes, I take for granted that, when the two finally met in heaven ten years ago, they had a terrific time comparing notes.

Luke presumes that all disciples of Jesus are influenced by the scriptural principle Wolff surfaced. That's why, early in the Acts of the Apostles, he describes an encounter between the Apostles and the Jerusalem Sanhedrin (Acts 5:27-32,40b-41).

Whom to obey

"We gave you strict orders," the high priest proclaims, "to stop teaching in that name." Peter and the Apostles' response is immediate and to the point: "We must obey God rather than men."

Luke constantly points out that such obedience always brings suffering and pain: "They left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name."

Students of the book of Revelation agree that the community to which that writing was originally directed was also suffering dishonor for the sake of the name (Revelation 5:11-14). Almost all apocalyptic literature is composed in the midst of persecution, when the faithful are tempted to believe God doesn't give a darn about them and their situation.

The scene the author paints is meant to strengthen his reader's belief in Jesus' power in their lives. Yet, at the same time, he includes one phrase that ties Jesus into their own suffering: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." The glory that permeates the vision is possible only because Jesus achieved it by enduring suffering and death.

St. John treats the same topic at the end of Sunday's Gospel (John 21:1-19). Jesus warns Peter, "When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but, when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."

It's interesting to reflect on the scriptural context of this warning. Scholars are convinced this chapter is a later addition to John's original Gospel. Yet they also believe it contains one of the earliest accounts we possess of a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus.

The disciples seem to have had no prior encounter with the "new-creation" Jesus. After their disastrous Jerusalem Passover pilgrimage, they simply returned to Capernaum and hung out, depressed, knowing Jesus was dead but reluctant to go back to what they did before He had entered their lives. Otherwise, they would have had to come face-to-face with the reality of His death.

Back to work

Though the late Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the expert on the stages of dying, would have loved that passage. She always reminded her audiences that we deal correctly with a loved one's death only after we painfully decide to "go back to work."

The seven are fishermen. When Peter says, "I'm going fishing!" he's saying, "Jesus is really dead, and so are the dreams He taught us to believe in."

Ironically, only when Peter does something that seals his belief in Jesus' death does he discover Him alive in his life in a new way.

If we commit ourselves to the obedience/disobedience format of Jesus and our sacred authors, and accept the suffering and death that come from such a commitment, we'll also step into a life we could never have imagined: the life that Jesus' faithful obedience and disobedience opened for Him.

(4/19/07)