‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?’ Lord, may I stand for you today.
Opinion is divided about Gamaliel, though Luke offers just a straightforward account of what happened. Certainly his speech was used by God, both to deliver the apostles from death and to give them liberty to continue to make known the truth about Jesus, at both a public and a more personal level. Yet Gamaliel remains uncertain, ambivalent. There is nothing to suggest that he ever made up his mind about Jesus. He preferred an open verdict.
Gamaliel has many followers today. They will not condemn Jesus, nor will they follow him. Gamaliel speaks as a sophisticate, advocating a position of neutrality, of ‘wait and see’, Such neutrality is not as it seems, for Gamaliel has already pigeonholed Jesus as another in a line of failed leaders to be relegated to history. Their story is on of a false claims, a ragtag army and inglorious defeat. As long as Jesus can be so labelled, he can be dismissed as one of a type. Throughout history people have tried to deal with Jesus that way, but he will not be boxed in, for he has no peers, no rivals and no successors.
Gamaliel’s solution to the problem, an academic’s delight, lacks focus, a time frame and specificity. It allows for ongoing debate with little resolution. it is easy to appear on the side of Jesus without ever making a stand. But, as the early church was discovering, the time for simple debate was to be short-lived. Their backs bore witness to the price they paid to ensure that the good news was heard. But, for them, it was a price worth paying. Speculative theology will offer not help when the storm clouds gather, but a living faith will carry you through. Gamaliel was used to grant the apostles a breathing space: they did not waste the opportunity – nor should we
He who abandons himself to God will never be abandoned by God.