Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Text: Acts 10. 44-end "An Unsettling God "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
How did you come into the life of the church? What were the main events that have marked that journey? For example, were you baptised as a baby, or later as an adult? Have you been part of the church all your life, or did you come to it or back to it at some later point? Would you describe your coming to faith as gradual or dramatic?
A Window on the Text
This reading continues the challenge to any sense of exclusiveness among people of faith, any sense of one person being better than, or more favoured than, someone else. Here, Luke explores two main themes: firstly, that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is unreserved and unconditional and, secondly, that acceptance of this teaching continues to be a subject of intense debate.
It comes as a real shock to those who were with Peter at the house of Cornelius: that these Gentiles (albeit ‘devout and God-fearing’) should receive the Holy Spirit. They believed that this privilege was reserved for them; they hadn’t understood it was a gift of God, to be given to whoever God chooses. A clear distinction was made between the circumcised (mostly Jewish) believers and everyone else. Now the accepted practice of circumcising proselytes as a condition of welcome into Judaism (Exodus 12: 48) is being overturned: a fundamental shift in understanding of both the inclusiveness of the Gospel and what it means to enter and belong to the people of God.
Seeing and hearing these Gentiles speaking in strange tongues and praising God (v46) - an echo of what had taken place on that earlier special Day of Pentecost - almost certainly goes some way to removing the sting from much of their surprise and resistance. The very public display of the Holy Spirit encourages Peter to go ahead and baptise them. They ask him to remain with them for a few days (v48b), quite probably wanting him to teach them more about the faith. The opening verses of the next chapter (11v2-3) suggest that this had not gone down well with the circumcised believers, or was perhaps misunderstood, which Peter then has to try to rectify.
The journey - from a closed and exclusive understanding of faith, and entry into the people of God - to an open and unconditional one was slow and at times painful. Despite this, news that Gentiles were responding to the word of God spread rapidly, and the testimony and witness of those who had come into faith could not be ignored.
Responding as a community
- Accepted practice and tradition were turned upside down in that Gentiles were baptised without being previously circumcised. How do we balance those things which we perceive to be essential to good order and practice in the life of the church with the sharing of the gospel?
- The cultural backdrop to this story is a very marked distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and yet the gospel reached out to both groups, seeing as a priority the drawing together of both into one body. In your own community do you see any group of people who present a similar challenge?
- Subsequent Christian tradition has reversed what we’ve seen here (i.e. we don’t expect people to be filled with the Spirit before baptism). Discuss together your understanding of what marks entry into the life of the people of God. What is important? What should come first? Does it matter?
Remember in prayer those who feel out of place in their local church, your church, because their background or circumstances do not fit with the majority who attend.
Remember in prayer those who have come to Christ from a different faith background and who require support in their new faith as well as having to deal with the reaction of family or friends.
Remember in prayer those who will be receiving Baptism (or some form of welcome into the Christian community) in the near future; the parents or carers of children, that they will be given the strength to fulfil the promises they make; and those able to answer for themselves, that they will rejoice in their commitment and personal testimony.
One of the challenges of these verses from Acts 10 is the extent to which our own church or small Christian community life reflects this call to inclusiveness.
Looking back over our lives it is worth reflecting on where or from whom it was that we learned our faith. Who were the people we can look back to and thank God for their encouragement, support and help and who through their words and actions showed us something of Christ?
I remember listening to Donald Soper on his ‘soap-box’ in London’s Hyde Park responding to a woman who asked him how he came to be doing what he had spent a life-time on: preaching, outreach, concern for the poor and the marginalized. He spoke movingly about those many people, some who were Christians, others not, who in his early years had encouraged, advised, listened to him and who had a decisive influence on him. Such help and support came sometimes from the most unlikely of people.
Who gave us something, or were something to us, that has made us who we are today?
Who are we giving to, or are something to, that has made them who they are today?
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion