Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Second Sunday of Easter
2. 14a, 22 – 32 :
For this and the next 5 weeks of Easter,
the Reflections will cover the Sunday reading from Acts
(See Introductory Notes)
Begin by using the Method as outlined
What, for you, is the ‘essence’ of the Christian Gospel? Where you would begin, if asked to share it with an enquirer? Discuss this in twos or threes. Then, all together, share some of your conclusions.
Reflection on the text
There are several lengthy speeches in Acts, two by Peter and two by Paul.
In this, his first to a Jewish audience, Peter tells how the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, fits into the story of God’s relationship with Israel. He shows that he fulfils all that the prophets, poets and songwriters longed for and foretold; that he stands in line as heir to the throne of King David.
Peter is saying, Jesus’ story is your story. The author of Acts is saying to his readers it is your story too and, by extension, it is our story today - mysteriously woven into all of human history.
How can we be sure? What seals the deal? The writer makes plain that it’s because ‘God raised Jesus up’ from death (vs. 24 and 32) - that’s what clinches it. This is the foundation upon which the Christian gospel is built. This is the pivotal event which draws people into community as followers of the Christ, and who become witnesses to the ongoing presence and power of his resurrection in the flow of their lives (v32).
Peter also confronts the injustice of Jesus’ death. It was a corporate crime, the Jewish establishment conspiring with Rome to do away with a man perceived to be major threat to political, social and religious stability. This introduces us to a major theme in Luke’s account: opposition to injustice and corruption.
some questions for group discussion:
- How can we witness to the power of the resurrection as communities of faith? In Acts, the gospel comes to people as an event and then an explanation.
To what extent is opposition to injustice and corruption an integral part of the life of your Christian community?
- What is the modern day equivalent of the ‘signs and wonders’ we read about?
- Do they form part of your community’s gospel proclamation?
- Is there something in your witness to the resurrection to be recovered here?
- If so, what might it be, and how?
- Can you identify some local or global issues of injustice that you are currently addressing or might address?
- How might you weave opposition to injustice and corruption with your proclamation of the gospel today?
Light a candle as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus and its ongoing impact on the life of your community of faith. Pray silently or aloud for that power to be seen in you as a community.
You may like to sing a song, like ‘He is Lord, he is risen from the dead and he is Lord’, as you remain in prayer. Second time around, sing ‘He’s our Lord.’
Remember by name, aloud or in silence, all who oppose corruption and injustice in our society and world. Conclude with these or similar words:
Leader: Alleluia! Christ is risen.
All: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
An Introduction to Acts
The Acts of the Apostles is the seamless sequel to Luke’s Gospel. It is thought they were written some 5 decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus,
around 85 AD.
The ‘book’ records the beginnings and spread of the Christian household community movement across the Roman Empire. We are shown how a religious movement which was deeply rooted in Jewish culture managed to ‘leap’ barriers and take root and flourish in a diversity of Gentile cultural contexts.
The author of Luke and Acts, who remains anonymous, provides a new portrait of Jesus the Christ for Gentiles living in a very different world from that of rural Palestine. Indeed, he opens a window into urban Greco-Roman society providing insights into the political and social circumstances of his day.
Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown, says that Acts was written to help Christians survive the death of the apostles. The author uses two devices: continuity with the past from Israel to Jesus to Peter to Paul and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit who empowers for God’s mission.
Biblical scholar Michael Trainer gives a very handy summary of the two scrolls in his book Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (p.26 see details below):
|Gospel of Luke
||Book of Acts
|1:1 - 4
||1:1 - 5
|1:5 – 3:38
||Birth Story of Jesus
||1:6 – 26
||Birth Story of the Church
|4:1 – 13
||Preparation by the Spirit for Mission
||2:1 – 13
||Preparation by the Spirit for Mission
|4:14 – 9:50
||Ministry in Galilee
||2:14 – 12:25
||Ministry in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria
|9:51 – 19:27
||Jesus' journey to Jerusalem
||13:21 – 28:16
||Paul's journey to Rome
|19:28 – 24:53
||Ministry in Jerusalem
||28:17 – 31
||Ministry in Rome
Trainer goes on to say:
‘According to Luke, the story of Jesus is incomplete without the story of the early Christian communities and, by inference, the story of the audience addressed by these stories. Jesus’ ministry is a model for the ministry of the Christian community; the story of the Christian community is grounded in and parallels the story of Jesus.’
Luke tackles a number of issues:
- How to remain faithful to the vision and spirit of Jesus in very different cultural and social circumstances.
- The reliability and historicity of the evidence available to Luke (documented eyewitness accounts and verbatim citation).
- How Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ live together in harmony and mutual respect.
- The implications of Jew and Gentile eating at table together.
Trainer says, the author of Luke/Acts
‘addresses a vibrant, active, missionary-conscious Christian community seeking to deal with problems on two fronts: internally, with issues of multiculturalism, wealth, table communion, ministerial effectiveness and diversity; and externally, with relationships and the wider Greco-Roman society.
Faced with these issues Luke was left with one or two options: to encourage readers to retreat into their own sectarian vacuum cut off from the reality of life around them, or encourage them to engage the questions and issues of their world. Luke chose the second option.
The Gospel and Acts… reflect that choice. Simply put, in both volumes Luke encourages readers to remain in dialogue with their world while bringing the tradition that they have received about Jesus to bear on it.’ ( page 27)
We face the same challenge to adapt and apply the Jesus story in our own context as we wrestle with the major challenges of our time – global warming, climate change, destruction of the habitat and survival of species; the global and local rich-poor divide; living simply in a consumer society; addressing issues of peace and justice in a world of violence and oppression.
We recommend that you take time to read the whole of Acts in one sitting prior to engagement in the study series.
We are grateful to Michael Trainor for kindly allowing us to use material from Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, 1995, St Paul’s, Homebush NSW, pages 26 and 27. For more on Michael Trainor’s work see: http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/theology/staff/trainor_mf.php
- Raymond E Brown’s classic work,1984, The Church the Apostles Left behind, Paulist Press, New York, chapter 4.
- Acts - The Gospel of the Spirit by Justo L. Gonzales, Orbis Books, 2001
- Acts - The peoples Bible Commentary by Loveday Alexander, Bible Reading Fellowship, 2006
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