Why are we gathered to hear a couple of idiots? That had to be the question on the minds of Annas, Caiaphas, Jonathan, and Alexander. According to Acts these four men were members of the high priestly family. We know from extra biblical sources that Annas was a high priest and in charge of the temple complex from the year 6 C.E. to 15 C.E. and that he was followed by Caiaphas who held the same position until the year 36 C.E.. Annas and Caiaphas were high on Jerusalems’s “Who’s Who” list, so when we read about them in Acts 4 they are not new to the biblical story. Both are mentioned by name in the trial narratives preceding Jesus’ crucifixion. The gospel of John suggests that Caiaphas was Annas’s son-in-law, which made the succession of the high priesthood a family matter. The familial connection is no surprise since five of Annas’s own sons will hold the position as well. One of those sons was a man named Jonathan, the third person on Luke’s list of notables. The fourth person, Alexander, is yet another member of Annas’s family–a nephew perhaps. The mentioning of these four men together, linked by marriage and genetics, reminds us that in Jesus’ day the power of the temple as symbol and as an economic center was concentrated within a lone dynastic group.
The author of Acts says that all these members of the high priestly family were present, along with the rulers, the elders, and the teachers of the law–the text calls this collective group the “archons” (i.e. those with power)–to deal with two curious prisoners. The previous day these now captive men had sauntered into the temple and caused quite a scene before the temple guards arrested them and held them overnight. Their egregious error was the healing of a lame man at the gate called ‘Beautiful.’ The lame man followed the two into the temple on fresh strong legs and danced around praising God. Crowds gathered, people whispered, energy seized the place, Spirit-led preaching filled the sacred precincts. Then the guards came, arrested the two healers, and dispersed the astonished onlookers.
When the archons sized up their prisoners, two young fisherman named Peter and John from a backwater in Galilee, they observed that although these two had created quite a stir, and had gathered a good following in a short amount of time, they were nothing but unschooled and ordinary men. The word for unschooled in Greek is “agrammatoi.” The word for ordinary in Greek is “idiotai.” Apparently Peter and John’s bad, home spun, “a-grammatical” Galilean speech made them sound “idiotic” to these ruling cosmopolitans. The archons impressions of Peter and John confirmed their suspicions about this new band of messianic disciples who championed a crucified king–followers of Christ are all a bunch of idiots.
Our own ideas of what an idiot is should not be forced upon the text. An “idiotai” was simply a commoner, a peasant–a salt of the earth, blue collar, dirt under the fingernails, laborer. In that respect the archons assessment of Peter and John was not far off, nor was their assessment of the larger movement of disciples of Christ. People throughout rural Galilee who decided to follow Jesus were by and large “idiotai.” Our first ancestors in the faith were, almost to a person, idiotic. Maybe one day we will come to terms with this, and understand what this says about the gospel.
It wasn’t just the two trouble makers rustic upbringing that led the archons to question the intelligence of Peter and John. It doesn’t take Forest Gump’s mother to tell you that “stupid is as stupid does.” Peter and John were preaching about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead inside the temple. The archons of the temple were all part of the Jewish sect known as the Sadducees, and Sadducees opposed the belief that one day a resurrection of the dead would occur. That is why Peter and John were arrested in the first place, because they were preaching in the temple and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. Of all the dumb things to preach, and of all the dumb places to preach it, Peter and John had picked the dumbest. In seminary they tell aspiring preachers to know their audience and to mind the circumstances. Which is another way of saying “play it safe.” Peter and John were not playing it safe. But what did you expect from a couple of idiotai?!
This led the archons to question the authority by which Peter and John did their ministry: “By what power and by what name did you do this?”
Sometimes life gives you a chance to redeem yourself. When it does you better make it count. Peter made it count. It wasn’t long ago that Peter wasted a night away sitting around a charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest Caiaphas while artfully dodging any connection with the Christ in order to save his own life. Whenever the name of Jesus was mentioned by those circled around that fire Peter spat out, “I never knew the man.” Three times he denied him before he ran off to wail into the darkness of the night. This time Peter stood once again at the feet of Caiaphas, and likely felt a painful twinge of memory when the powerful archons circled around him demanding to know the name behind his proclamations. This time things were different. They had done their worst to Jesus, and he still came out on top. Peter, not quite as afraid of death as he once was, and filled with the Holy Spirit, used his thickest Galilean drawl in reply, “Rulers and elders of the people! It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
I suspect that when Peter started to defend himself with his dense Galilean accent, and his poor grammar, and his mispronounced words it was a head scratching moment for the archons that had gathered. They must have looked around at each other and wondered why Annas, Caiaphas, Jonathan, Alexander, the rulers, the elders, and the teachers of the law were all present to deal with these two hill billy, red neck, trouble makers. Couldn’t some low level temple guard or administrator handle the matter of two Jesus-followers who couldn’t figure out that their wannabe Messiah was butchered and buried? Isn’t that what we do in our world? Big people are called in for big problems. Little problems are too minor to bother big people with, and there are so many of them that if we called a big person every time we had to deal with a little problem there wouldn’t be big people left to deal with big problems. Let little people deal with little problems. These men from Galilee had nothing! They had no money, no connections, no Roman backing, no impressive edifices, no education–they were idiotai! Just listen to them talk! Who cared about them? They had no clout!
Neither do I. At least that’s what Klout.com tells me. Klout.com (yes ‘klout’ with a ‘k”) measures your influence based on your social media networks. It uses my facebook account and my twitter account to gather information on me: how many people comment on my facebook status updates; how many people “like” or “share” a story that I post; how many people retweet a tweet that I ‘twittered’(?). It also allows me to label other people who have Klout accounts that have had an influence on me, and in turn those who I have influenced can also label me. Once all this data is crunched the site spits out a number from 1-100 that is your “Klout score.” The owners of the site are quite proud of their product “When we’re measuring your influence there’s no room for error” says the site, “we have a killer team of scientists and engineers working everyday to ensure continued accuracy and make the Score clear and actionable.”
What’s quite “clear” to me is that I’ve missed the clout band wagon. My Klout score was a miserable 10. My other friends had scores in the fifties and sixties. The site gave their profile pictures captions which read “broadcaster” and “specialist” and “pundit“. These are people who make a difference and who change the world around them. My profile picture was tagged with the pathetic caption “observer“–someone who watches the world drift on by. How embarrassing!
You may wonder why a person should care what their laptop tells them about their own clout. The answer is perks! The good folks at Klout.com have convinced a whole slew of companies that if they give their products away in “perks” to those with the highest Klout scores then as those influential leaders use their clout to influence others there will be a trickle-down effect in their product’s popularity. So, for instance, if I can raise my Klout score to a 30 then I can receive, as advertized, “ten free samples of Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea mix. Great on-the-go and perfect for sharing with fellow tea fans, Lipton Tea & Honey is a refreshingly new tea experience. Happy sipping!” That’s the way clout works. Clout equals perks. Perks equals privilege. Privilege equals power.
I’m pretty sure if Peter and John surfed the web instead of the waters of the Sea of Galilee then their Klout score would have been negative five. The men in front of them, however, had Klout scores through the roof–they had captions on their profile pictures that read “high priest” and “ruler” and “elder” and “teacher of the law.“ They had all the perks, which translated to all the privilege, which gave them all the power.
The Bible, however, is big on divine reversals and doesn’t seem to give a flip about Klout scores. The tiny tribes of Israel escape Pharaoh’s chariots. The twelve foot thick walls of Jericho fall. Scrawny David slays Goliath. Something good comes from Nazareth. Galilee holds its own in Jerusalem. A crucified wannabe messiah continues to make waves in the realm of the living. The once lame man dances in the temple on strong athletic legs. The archons with all the dynastic clout and privilege gather in mass because they don’t know how a lame man was healed nor do they have an answer for a couple idiotai with bad grammar. None of it makes any sense. How do these things happen?
For Peter the answer was simple. It was the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus gives even the idiotai clout. The name of Jesus means that folks with bad grammar can still proclaim with authority. Jesus was the fulcrum for the divine reversal. Peter, states it emphatically, perhaps famously, to the gathered archons in his often abused quote from Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Many pull this quote from its context, and understand it as a sectarian statement of judgment about the bleak future of all those who do not wear the label of ‘Christian.’ Peter is not, however, referencing some future salvation of Christians who abide in eternal praise-filled worship somewhere in the deep azure. The question asked of Peter was who gives you authority now, and how, yesterday, did you make the lame man walk. The salvation the lame man received was the ability to get up and dance about. The salvation the idiotai were receiving was the ability, in that moment, to stand up and proclaim, and to do so with authority. The salvation of Peter, John, and the lame man was in no way a future hope, but a present reality. Because of the name of the resurrected Jesus, Peter was no longer hiding his face from the light of the charcoal fire swearing he never knew the prophet from Nazareth. Now this idiot was toe to toe and eye to eye with every archon the temple could boast, and his silver tongue, even with its Galilean accent, was razor sharp.
Do you have faith that the resurrected Christ can do the same for you, and that beyond you the resurrected Christ is at work in the world setting things to rights at this very moment, pouring out salvation on all people in ways that confound even those with the highest clout scores. It takes great faith to believe this. We see so much abuse. Websites tell us that Jesus Christ will never get the free samples of Lipton Mango tea. When you express your faith most people these days will probably take you for an idiot. But there is nothing quite so satisfying as standing in a room full or archons, archons that have caused you to cower in times past, and not blinking an eye or stammering a word, but proclaiming loud the only name in the whole world that has a hope of making a lame man walk again.