Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Text: Acts 2. 1-21 " You’re talking my kind of language"
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Can you think of a moment when, in a group discussion or event, it became clear that “everyone was speaking the same language”, or “singing from the same hymn-sheet”.
What was the effect of that unanimity on the group?
A Window on the Text
Much of this passage revolves around language and communication as a means of sharing widely something new that has invaded and will transform human history. We read of people ‘speaking in other languages (v4), hearing their own language (V6), your sons and daughters will prophesy’ (v17).
It is about the language of peoples who have travelled great distances and from diverse cultures; the Parthians and Medes have come 1.500 miles from north-east Iran to get to Jerusalem, the Romans have come a similar distance from Italy to the north-west, the Cyrenians 1,000 miles from Libya on the North African coast to the south-west and the Elamites from the south-east. It is hard for us, who live in an age of air-travel and the common international language of English, to imagine such widespread and long distance travel on foot, camel or horse back and how communication happened two thousand years ago.
However, these place names represent ancient civilisations which had traded with each other over thousands of years. Burial shrouds, unearthed in northern Iran and dated to 3,000BC bear a mixture of Egyptian, European and Chinese motifs. Almost the entire area represented by these place names had been under Greek rule for 300 years from by Alexander the Great in 334BC and then under Roman rule for almost a century. There already was a common language which allowed travel and trade – it was Greek.
So, we might speculate about the nature of the communication in which the speaking and the listening crosses ethnic and cultural boundaries? Perhaps it was the prophetic message and the energy that it produced in the believers which made sense in any language or culture. The message concerned the Day of the Lord.
Using his new-found ability to communicate across cultures, Peter begins to speak about the Day of the Lord, quoting the prophet Joel. The quotation which we have here (v17-21) is the third and last part of a longer prophecy (Joel 2) that describes the Day of the Lord in three phases. The first part is about a plague of locusts devouring all the crops and leaving people to starve. The second is a call to repentance in which the locusts come to be seen as God’s judgement on an unjust society. The third part is about the blessing from God which will be poured out onto those who see the error of their ways, repent and make a new start.
Across Palestine at this time, ordinary people are being impoverished by Roman rule through taxation and the need to feed an occupying army. The religious authorities are complicit in this exploitation. Landowners have built vineyards to satisfy Roman demands and tenant farmers have been displaced.
Grain grown on the North African coast feeds the citizens of Rome, silk from China, dyed purple in Lebanon clothes Emperors, minerals from Iran and Asia Minor make Rome wealthy. This is the beginning of a (hemispherical) global market. And everywhere the effect is the same, the poor are exploited in unjust and unequal societies within an empire maintained by military might. But, that is all about to be up-turned by the possibility of a new ‘empire’ gently ruled by a crucified Prince of Peace who God raised from the dead. This can be the "Day that the Lord has made", but only if we let the Spirit work on and in us.
Responding as a community
The British parliament is engulfed in a crisis of exploitation with distrust following in its wake. The financial crisis rolls on; bankers bonuses continue and manufacturing workers are laid off. The American and British governments continue to use their combined military might to keep the Medes and Persians (Iran) in check, the Cyrenians too. Global temperature rises as does the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
- Is the “Day of the Lord” relevant to society today? Where in the cycle of punishment (locusts), repentance, and blessing (young women’s visions and old men’s dreams) are we today?
- In what way is your discussion group, or your church proclaiming and living out the Day of the Lord in its neighbourhood? What might you do in response to this passage?
- In which part of your life as a Christian do you feel that the “Spirit is with you”? If this is not a common experience, why might that be?
Write, on slips of paper, words which reflect the ‘locust’ aspects of society.
Do the same for places and events which represent signs of repentance and change.
Lay the slips of paper on the floor in the middle of the group. Then light candles to represent the signs of the spirit at work. Lay the candles among the words and name out loud the signs of the spirit’s work which each candle represents.
Say the Lord’s Prayer together.
- The BBC website has a relevant and helpful article comparing the way in which IKEA has unified Europe around its brands and values with the way in which the European Parliament has struggled with diversity. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8054990.stm
- For a modern perspective on ‘locusts’, go to Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better”. It is a useful source of information about the cost to society of extremes of wealth and poverty.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion