If Of God, You Can’t Overthrow It

[Homily: Closing Eucharist of AdDU Strategic Planning Workshop, 16-20 April, 2012]

We come together at the end of the Workshop on University Strategic Planning, which we ran under the theme of “Achieving Union of Minds and Hearts,” with gratitude for the deeper union of minds and hearts that we have together achieved, but also with deep insight into the truth that this is still a work in progress. Yet, even realizing that much has yet to be achieved, we thank the Lord for the considerable bit that we have achieved in the Lord’s grace – particularly through this workshop.

We have evolved a plan. It is certainly far from complete. But it includes a deepened appreciation of the ADDU Vision and Mission, the key result areas and general goals of its implementation, new proposed structures such as the School of Education, the School of Social Sciences, the Department of Entrepreneurship, and the Department of Environmental Studies, a productive research program, a well-functioning community service and advocacy program, and because our plan is still a work in progress, a mechanism for ongoing planning.

We firmly believe that the plan that we have evolved proceeds from our ADDU Vision and Mission, that is, from our being a thriving universitas scholarum et magistrorum that is Filipino, committed to the faith that does justice, cultural sensitivity, and interreligious dialogue. We also believe that this plan proceeds “ex corde ecclesiae” – from the heart of the Church – that is, from the heart of a community of believers preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, sharing, searching for and standing up for truth, and taking the consequences.

This is, I believe, what our readings from the Acts of the Apostles have been about these days. What we experience in community as a consequence of our faith, is what the stories from Acts depict. The earliest groups of Christian believers in Jesus needed to teach and to preach that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, despite the threats, because Jesus had manifested himself to them as alive, and continued to manifest himself to them through signs. It is in this context that one of the early prayers of the Christian community is recorded:
“Now, Lord, look at [our enemies’] threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant, Jesus” (Acts 4: 29-30)

This prayer can be understood from the description of early Christian community life in Acts:

“Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would gather fro the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured” (Act: 5:12-16).

From this description, we can notice the following: The early Christians were “all together”; that was not merely a physical togetherness, but a union of hearts and minds based on shared faith and shared life. Then, on the one hand, we notice a group of people, “the rest,” “the others,” “the non-believers” who did not dare to join them, since their spirit was so different from the Spirit and awesome power of the Christian group; on the other hand we also see that the “great numbers” of believers were added to their number. “Were added” meaning that the growth of the early Christian community was not just a matter of skilled community organization and self-promotion, but the result of the work of grace, the work of God himself. Belief was a gift, a gift offered and accepted in remarkable numbers. And because of this belief, their sick were cured, suffering was overcome, despair was reversed, and wholesome life restored.

Beautiful as this description is, the immediate consequence of this living community of believers in Jesus living and sharing their faith in him was persecution. What was the consequence of Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom of God is the consequence of the early Church preaching the Kingdom of God. This we see in yesterday’s reading (cf. Acts 5: 27-33). When the apostles preached the Gospel, they were thrown into jail. When they were lock up by the jealousy and ill will of men, they were liberated by the compassion and salvific will of God. When they were called in by the authorities in power and given strict orders no longer to preach Jesus, they responded, “We must obey God rather then men” (Acts 5: 30a). They insisted that they were witnesses of the resurrected Christ as the Holy Spirit was. They could not keep this to themselves. When they spoke in peace and conviction, the authorities responded in rage and resolve to kill them.

In today’s reading from Acts 5: 34-42, we read of a wise and well-respected Jew, Gamaliel, raising a warning. He says:

“Keep away from these people and let them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin it will fail…”

This “plan,” this idea and unfolding of a relationship between this community and a redeeming Jesus, this idea and unfolding of a relationship between this community and a loving Father, if merely of human origin, will fail.

“But if it is of God,” Gamiliel says, “you will not be able to overthrow it. In that case, you will be fighting God.” You will be fighting the Almighty. You will lose.

Gamaliel convinced the high priests and elders. They relent. They just have them flogged. Incredible, isn’t it. They desist from wanting to kill him since their message may be of God, and so they merely have them flogged. We might recall a parallel incident where the wife of Pilate warns her husband not to have anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Mt. 27:19). Pilate, convinced that he was innocent, just had him flogged. Then had him crucified.

The apostles had been incarcerated, flogged and humiliated, yet they “rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name [of Jesus]. Every day, they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:41).

In the four days that we have been here, we have evolved a plan. I believe our Lord is communicating something of great importance to us through our readings from Acts: if our plan is merely of human origin, it will fail. But if it is “of God,” no person, no force, would be able to kill it. For such a force would be ranged against the power of the almighty God. And against this God, that power would fail.

Our prayer then is that our plan be God’s plan, proceeding from the heart of the Church, not just a plan of human origin alone, the product of our minds, our wisdom, our “galing,” our great organizational skills as experienced administrators, wise academicians and bold speakers for the truth. For if it is merely this that we have, it will certainly die. Our prayer is that this plan be your Word expressing itself in our words and in our deeds, so that we feel ourselves compelled in freedom evermore to preach Jesus’ Name and teach in his Name. Wherever our plan is not his, we pray for the humility and courage to change it. While we preach and teach, we pray that the Lord continue “to stretch out his hand to heal,” which we need for whenever we have culpably departed from this plan, God’s plan, for whenever we’ve sinned against God and each other, for whenever we’ve hurt one another in carrying out our duties, for whenever we’ve been angered or frustrated by things not going our way, for whenever we need the signs of God’s presence, God’s compassion, God’s encouragement, God’s love. We recall the apostles’ prayer:
We recall the apostles’ prayer: “Now, Lord, look at [our enemies’] threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant, Jesus” (Acts 4: 29-30)

When their boldness led them to persecution and suffering, they rejoiced. We have said: being a thriving university must be characterized by deep joy – gaudium de veritate, joy coming from truth, joy in the truth. It is in our University being impelled by the truth and being increasingly one with the truth, that gaudium de veritate is gifted us. This is a truth of fidelity – ongoing faith – in Jesus Christ expressed in the life, the plan, of our University that necessarily entails suffering and the Cross. With the Cross of Jesus Christ, however, comes the joy – the gaudium – of his resurrection. This plan, God’s, is our vocation, our work, our plan, our joy.

To this we say – proudly, but humbly – yes!

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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