Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
The Fourth Sunday of Easter Text:
Acts 4. 5-12. "Conflict over Healing "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Have you ever experienced a situation where those in authority became unsettled when they were challenged by ‘amateurs’ who are taking over their role?
A Window on the Text
This episode takes place shortly after Pentecost, when Peter and the other disciples had been given the courage and determination to take Jesus’ message to the people of Jerusalem and beyond. Their presence in the temple ‘day by day praising God and having the goodwill of the people’ (Acts 2: 46-47) must have severely rattled the religious and political authorities – especially as the number of their followers had been increasing at such a rate. The healing of the disabled man by Peter and John (Acts 3: 1-10) and Peter’s outspokenness to the crowd had attracted even more attention, and prompted the arrest of the two disciples.
The bravery with which they respond to their questioning, contrasted in particular with Peter’s denial of Jesus just a few weeks earlier in the same ‘corridors of power’, astounds the rulers, elders and lawyers. Luke may well have been writing his account after the destruction of the temple in AD 70, which would reinforce the irony of ‘the rejected stone which has become the cornerstone’ (v 11) of a new system, replacing the huge and magnificent temple buildings. The disciples are claiming that their actions in healing a lame man are done ‘in the name’ of Jesus, someone the temple authorities thought they had ruthlessly destroyed just a short time previously.
Again we note the emphasis in this act of ‘witness’ on the resurrection of Jesus. The man’s healing is linked directly to it. The early Christians seem to have placed greater emphasis on the resurrection in their public proclamation of the gospel than on the atonement, which was reserved for those who wanted to know more.
Responding as a community
- Has the Christian faith in the Western world become too comfortable with the ruling authorities today, and lost its challenging edge?
- In verse 13, the authorities are amazed that Peter and John could speak so eloquently even though they are uneducated, ordinary men. How do you ensure within your community that the voices of ordinary people have the chance to be heard?
- Why do you think the idea of resurrection was so challenging to those who had control of the temple – and is it still the same now?
- To what extent is the resurrection centre stage in your proclamation of the gospel as a community? What evidence, such as a healing miracle or some other ‘raising up’ event, would you use to add substance to your argument?
- How do we discern who is speaking ‘in the name of Jesus’ today? Can it be used as justification for any sort of rebellion or point of view?
- Pray for the strength and courage to speak with the same boldness that Peter and John did when challenging unjust structures.
(From Ruth Burgess, in “Fire and Bread. Resources for Easter Day to Trinity Sunday”. Wild Goose Publications, the Iona Community.)
- Many Christians feel powerless in the face of the overwhelming imbalance of power in our world. Faith in ‘Jesus’ name’ often seems ridiculous. Pray for them, and for yourselves, that we may all hold on to the faith that really God is in control of the world.
- Sadducees were Jewish aristocrats, and included the High Priest and his family. They held authority in Jerusalem, guarded the central shrine and oversaw the sacrificial system in the temple. They exercised great power economically, socially and politically: they could get things done, or stop things being done. This is why they strongly disapproved of the idea of ‘resurrection’: it was always a radical, dangerous doctrine, an attack on the status quo and a threat to existing power structures. Those who hold power in the world as it is don’t want God to ‘turn the world the right way up at last’ in case they don’t keep their place in it.
- The scribes, or teachers of the law, were mostly Pharisees, who did believe in resurrection, and they were a populist group at the time of Jesus. Arguments within the Sanhedrin or Council between them and the Sadducees were common. By the time of the destruction of the temple in AD 70 the Pharisees were in control of the Sanhedrin.
- The reference to the rejected stone becoming the capstone is from Psalm 118, which is about celebrating God’s new day and his life-giving power, his mercy and his victory over all the powers of the world. Much has been written about the architectural significance of a capstone or cornerstone, but what is important is its use to symbolise the rejection of something that turns out to be the most important feature of all, not its physical position in a building.
- The Greek word used by Peter translated as ‘lame’ in v 9 also means ‘sick’, ‘lacking in power’ or ‘weak’ and the verb translated as ‘healing’ also means ‘making whole’, ‘saving’ or ‘liberating’. Peter is saying both that a sick man has been healed and that a weak person oppressed by illness has been saved, liberated and strengthened.
- The repetition of ‘name’ (v 7, 10, 12) is important; the name being the essence of a thing or person. Yahweh’s name is sacred because Yahweh is sacred. The ‘name’ is the authority by which an act is performed. The ‘name of Jesus’ is none other than Jesus himself. The intention of the Council was to suppress the news about the healing of the lame man, and even though the miracle is undeniable they were attempting to frighten Peter and John into silence, thus preventing the information spreading further among the people and being connected with ‘the name of Jesus’.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion