Friday, May 27, 2011

Acts 12: Man plans, God laughs

King Herod of Judea, the son of the tetrarch Jesus called “that fox,” placates a core constituency (Pharisees) by killing the Apostle John. A seasoned power politician like his father and grandfather, he is continuing the family tradition of murdering friends of Jesus named John. Delighted at the audience’s happy response, Herod then imprisons Peter. Will he be next? Probably, if Herod gets his way. But as the Yiddish proverb says, “Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht” – "Man plans, God laughs.

In response to a praying church, an angel of the Lord appears to sleeping Peter. He has to tell Peter three times: get up, get dressed, get moving. He even whacks him on the side, before Peter realizes once and for all that he is not dreaming. You can almost hear him say:

“I don’t beLIEVE it!”

Minutes later Peter has escaped and is knocking on the door of John Mark’s house, where many disciples are staying. Rhoda the servant opens the door. She alone “gets it” right off. In fact she gets it so quickly that she leaves Peter standing outside, while she runs inside to tell the disciples, who respond:

“I don’t beLIEVE it!”

They are so sure their prayers have not been answered that they think she has seen a ghost. Enfleshed Peter appears. They believe. One guy who never does actually “get it” is Herod, who cross-examines (a nice word for torture no doubt) the guards, hears their admittedly far-fetched explanations, and concludes:

I don’t beLIEVE it!”

(In my mind’s ear I hear him sounding like Wallace Shawn’s character in “The Princess Bride”: “Incontheevable!”) True to form he executes the guards. A little while later Herod is back in Caesarea, basking in comfortable role as pork dispenser. It is a odd thing about politicians who control the public purse strings: their audiences applaud every statement and laugh at every joke. Another Yiddish proverb says, “When you have money in your pocket, you are funny and you are handsome and you sing good, too.” The crowd listening to Herod relies on him for their food (vs. 20). They know their part in this play: after he speaks, they shout as if on cue, “this is the voice of a god, not of a man!” But one unseen Listener says to Himself,

“I don’t beLIEVE it!”

So for the second time in this chapter an Angel of the Lord strikes someone, and Herod’s innards become lunch for hungry worms. So pass all tyrants, on this side of the grave or the other. But the Word of the Lord endures forever, and so does His Kingdom, and so do His martyred servants. Believe it!

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