Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2.14a, 36-41 :
Getting back on Course
For this and the next 4 weeks of Easter,
the Reflections will cover the Sunday reading from Acts
(See Introductory Notes)
Have you ever got lost on a journey? How did you feel when you realised you were going the wrong way or were in the wrong place?
A grandmother was heard to say with some concern, “I have just realised that my understanding of Jesus is still the same as it was when I was taught Sunday School.” Recall, if you can, a time when you realised that your understanding of God was no longer real and needed to change dramatically. How did it happen and how did you feel?
Reflection on the text
There has been quite a change in a short time. Peter, just weeks ago, was the one who denied Jesus (cf Luke 22v54f). Now he’s the bold preacher addressing residents of Jerusalem. And the people, who just weeks ago decried the disciples as Galileans, ‘country bumpkins’, now call them brothers (v37).
And another big change: the crowds, some of whom would have called for Jesus’ blood, are now ‘cut to the heart’ at the realisation of what they have done (v37).Now, “What shall we do?” is their urgent question.
All is not lost. There is hope and promise. A promise … to you and your children … to all who are far off … to all whom the Lord our God will call (v39). It is a promise for … the listeners, available immediately … for the ‘far-off’, Jews who have drifted away from religion or were excluded by religion’s interpretation of the Law … and for those who were to be ‘called’ in the future.
The requirement is a radical change of direction and break with the past, to “save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (v40). Repentance means a complete U-turn and adoption of a whole new mindset, a new way of life.
Baptism involves the washing away of the old life and the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower the new: that same gift which has empowered Peter and his fellow apostles to become renewed persons and a renewed community (v41).
some questions for group discussion:
List (on a flip chart if you have one) some of the features of the “corrupt generation” of our time - the early 21st century. Underline any that you think Jesus would have spoken out about and say why.
- Are there any which you recognise you have condoned or embraced rather than resisted and challenged? Use as your heading the words ‘We regret that …’ or ‘We are sorry that …’ .
- How do you feel about them, and what might you do about them? Make a list of the group’s suggestions for a different future. Use the words, ‘From now on we will …’.
- What other parts of your life together as a community and as individuals would be affected by your ‘turning’? Who would be affected?
- What might the cost be?
Place the list of 21st century corruptions on the floor in the centre of the group circle. Reflect in silence on the items that you have condoned and ask God’s forgiveness. Then, take it in turns to read aloud an item. After each is read all say ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ Turn the flip chart over as a symbol that these ‘sins’ are forgiven, and lay on top of it the list of suggestions for the future. Ask God’s blessing on those aspirations, and for God’s Spirit to empower you.
More background information
Peter starts this speech with the statement that “God has made this Jesus … both Lord and Christ”. To his hearers, living under Roman rule, Caesar was Lord. And the religious leaders of the day had acceded to that in return for being allowed to maintain Temple worship of their own God. They also tolerated a royal family who were foreigners, Edomite by origin. Herod the Great had compounded his unsuitability to be king by marrying a Samaritan woman, but he bought his acceptance from the religious leaders by committing himself to a lengthy and costly restoration of the Temple.
So the 1st century was as corrupt a generation as any including the 21st. “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not. And if Caesar is not Lord, then Caesar’s gospel .. his version of the good news .. affluence, progress, consumption, and militarism isn’t good news at all.” (Leonard Hjalmarson in Leading from the Margins. (see http://nextreformation.com/wp-admin/resources/Margins.pdf )
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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