Memory of the Saints and the Prophets

Share On


Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Acts 12,1-25

It was about this time that King Herod started persecuting certain members of the church. He had James the brother of John beheaded, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he went on to arrest Peter as well. As it was during the days of Unleavened Bread that he had arrested him, he put him in prison, assigning four sections of four soldiers each to guard him, meaning to try him in public after the Passover. All the time Peter was under guard the church prayed to God for him unremittingly. On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with two chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison. Then suddenly an angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. 'Get up!' he said, 'Hurry!' -- and the chains fell from his hands. The angel then said, 'Put on your belt and sandals.' After he had done this, the angel next said, 'Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.' He followed him out, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed through the first guard post and then the second and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him. It was only then that Peter came to himself. And he said, 'Now I know it is all true. The Lord really did send his angel and save me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.' As soon as he realised this he went straight to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, where a number of people had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the outside door and a servant called Rhoda came to answer it. She recognised Peter's voice and was so overcome with joy that, instead of opening the door, she ran inside with the news that Peter was standing at the main entrance. They said to her, 'You are out of your mind,' but she insisted that it was true. Then they said, 'It must be his angel!' Peter, meanwhile, was still knocking. When they opened the door, they were amazed to see that it really was Peter himself. He raised his hand for silence and described to them how the Lord had led him out of prison. He added, 'Tell James and the brothers.' Then he left and went elsewhere. When daylight came there was a great commotion among the soldiers, who could not imagine what had become of Peter. Herod put out an unsuccessful search for him; he had the guards questioned, and before leaving Judaea to take up residence in Caesarea he gave orders for their execution. Now Herod was on bad terms with the Tyrians and Sidonians. Yet they sent a joint deputation which managed to enlist the support of Blastus, the king's chamberlain, and through him negotiated a treaty, since their country depended for its food supply on the king's territory. A day was fixed, and Herod, wearing his robes of state and seated on a throne, began to make a speech to them. The people acclaimed him with, 'It is a god speaking, not a man!' and at that moment the angel of the Lord struck him down, because he had not given the glory to God. He was eaten away by worms and died. The word of God continued to spread and to gain followers. Barnabas and Saul completed their task at Jerusalem and came back, bringing John Mark with them.

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Chapter 12 of Acts brings us back to Jerusalem where a third Herod was king, following the Herod of Jesus’ infancy and the second Herod of the passion. This new Herod, no less violent than his predecessors, began to persecute the young Christian community. First he had James the brother of John the evangelist killed, and then, as if to deal the deathblow, he imprisoned Peter. In the Gospels and in the book of Acts the succession of Herods is rather peculiar. It represents evil’s continuous hostility toward Jesus and his work, a plan of opposition and a strategy created by the evil forces that want to imprison and eliminate the Word of God. The Gospel is always a scandal and it frightens Herod in his power. Like Jesus, Peter was arrested during the “days of Unleavened Bread”, the day before Passover. During the night, just as Jesus was liberated from death, Peter was set free from his chains. Miraculously, he left the prison and found himself in the street. He was not sent into the Temple by the angel like he was the first time he was freed from prison. This time he was brought to the street, as if to say that the Christian community should grow and spread in the world. This is the meaning of the sentence that the author of the Acts often uses to describe the life of the first Christian community: “The word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.” The Word of God and the community are now permanently bound to one another. And as soon as they saw Peter, the disciples that had gathered in the house belonging to Mark’s mother (possibly the evangelist) were even more convinced that the strength of the Word of God was mightier than chains. Herod, who boasted of his power, “was eaten by worms and died.” Peter, strong only in the Gospel, was freed from difficulty and with a new energy in his heart “left and went to another place.”