In today’s first reading we see religious politics in play in the Sanhedrin which consisted to Sadducees (the majority) and Pharisees. The Sadducean leaders were so enraged by the defiance of their orders, they wanted to put the apostles to death. For such drastic action they needed the support of the Pharisaic members of the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees commanded much more public respect than did the Sadducees and it was important to have them “on board” in a case like the present, in which the defendants (apostles) enjoyed the people’s goodwill.
During the debate one of the most respected of Pharisaic leaders arose to speak. Who is this person whose words are recorded in the Acts? Gamaliel the Elder, considered the greatest teacher of the day. According to Acts 22:3, Paul of Tarsus was one of his pupils. Gamaliel was remembered in later generations as the embodiment of pure Pharisaism. “When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Torah ceased, and purity and ‘separateness’ died.” When Gamaliel spoke people on both sides listened.
Gamaliel warned the others not to do anything rash. His advice consisted of sound Pharisaic teaching; God is over all and needs no help from men for the fulfilment of His purposes; all men must do is to obey and leave the issue to Him. Gamaliel makes this point and illustrates it by reminding his hearers of other movements within their lifetime which for a time enjoyed considerable support but were finally not established, because they were not “in the name of heaven.”
His advice is far more elegant than the modern day, “let go and let God.” It is true that God needs no help from us to fulfill His purposes, but then again God has asked for and commissioned our help. Still, let us be as wise Gamaliel and be reflected and considered of our actions and words. Are they “in the name of heaven?” In the meantime, try not to do anything rash.