Today’s first reading presents us with a difficult tension:
When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.
In this text, we read that the apostles obey God rather than men. And we too know that we should obey God rather than men.
However, we also know that God has placed certain people in positions of authority. For example, God has placed certain people in authority in the Church. God has granted governmental authority to others. So, it can be difficult to know whether we should submit to the authority of others in a variety of contexts.
This reading gives us some insight. What the officials are asking the apostles to do is wrong. They are asking them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. So, this provides us with a rule of thumb – we should submit to the God-given authority of others as long as they are not asking us to act in a way that is contradictory to the way we believe God would want us to act.
In order to do this, however, we have to know how God would want us to act. Thus, we must allow our consciences to be formed by the teachings of scripture, Christian tradition and the teaching authority of the Church.