By Ed Little
A Reading from Acts 12:18-25
18 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body, and after winning over Blastus, the king’s personal attendant, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. 22 The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a mortal!” 23 And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. 25 Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.
The gospel emerged in a chaotic world. At the center of today’s reading is Herod Antipas, son of the Herod whose orders led to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. He was, by comparison, a relatively minor tyrant; but even a minor tyrant can destroy lives on a whim. After Peter was miraculously freed from prison, Herod, ruthless as the Queen of Hearts, sent Peter’s guards to their execution without due process: “Off with their heads!”
People feared Herod. When a delegation appeared before him begging for food, in order to curry favor, they shouted, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!” Herod must have enjoyed the adulation. Luke reports that the Lord had (apparently) had enough of Herod’s antics and “an angel of the Lord struck him down.”
In many ways, nothing has changed between the first and the 21st centuries. Leaders bask in self-aggrandizement, people beg for favors, and the world is racked with chaos. The planet is as troubled today as it was 2,000 years ago.
“But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.” That is key. Yes, the world is deeply troubled. Yes, leaders fail us. Yet the gospel has advanced, and still advances. As St. Paul colorfully puts it, “the word of God is not chained” (2 Tim. 2:9).
We often experience Jesus’ presence in chaotic times, when our lives are upended by illness, broken relationships, or vocational crisis. It is then that, almost instinctively, we reach out. It is then, when the Herods around us and within our hearts engenders fear, that we stretch out our hands: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The Diocese of Minna – The Church of Nigeria