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Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice


Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2. 42-end
: The Jesus Community Economy

Note:
For this and the remaining weeks of Easter,
the Reflections will cover the Sunday reading from Acts
(See Introductory Notes)
Sharing together

In what ways has the love, acceptance and fellowship of a local church made an impact on you or on others? Does the quality of life of your Christian community attract outsiders?

Reflection on the text

There’s a difference here between 'going to church' and 'being the church’. The latter has far reaching implications for how we express our church life today.

Clearly, personal response to the gospel message through the apostolic witness had led many to faith in Christ and baptism into the new community (v41), with a commitment to one another, as they ‘devoted themselves’ (v42) to:-

‘the apostles teaching’, which the twelve had learned from being with Jesus,

‘the fellowship’, expressed in all its fullness through solidarity, caring and sharing,

‘the breaking of bread’, already being recognised as a re-membering of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and

‘the prayers’, the power base of Jesus’ life and of the ministry of all who were to follow him.

This expression of practical loving and costly commitment to one another in community, where the needs of everyone are met with a Christ-like generosity of spirit (v45), was clear for all around to see, and the church continued to grow through this witness. It offered a powerful alternative to the harsh way of life in the Roman world. It is worth reading Acts 4 verses 32 – end which provides further evidence of the development of an alternative economy based on Jesus' kingdom values.
Application: some questions for group discussion:
  1. How do you reconcile this difference between ‘being the church’ and ‘going to church’? What are the implications of this for expressing your common life together as church?

  2. In our very busy lives today, is it realistic to expect a similar level of commitment to one another?

  3. In your local situation how you recover something of the sense of community so evident in the early church? What evidence is there of it already happening?

  4. How important are the four elements in Acts 2 verse 42 for us today?

  5. What does devotion to the ‘apostles teaching’ mean for us today as a community of faith?
Praying Together

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.13, ‘We were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’

Share the Peace with one another as a blessing, using the Hebrew word Shalom’ (God’s peace be with you). Pray for one another and thank God for one another in the fellowship.

Pray for the community in which you are set, for individuals, for needs and situations.

Action

Arrange to hold an informal ‘Breaking of Bread’ together, perhaps in the context of a shared meal, and then reflect with one another on the experience.

Going Deeper

The breaking of bread

By the time the Book of Acts was written, this was a technical term meaning the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion (see also 1 Cor.10.16-17). It is evident from 1 Corinthians 11.18-30 that the ‘love feast’ or ‘agape’, the breaking of bread, took place in the context of a meal. Later they were separated to prevent the problem to which Paul refers in 1 Cor.11 20-22. The expression of the Lord's Supper varied from place to place with some common threads.

The fellowship

Greek: koinonia, a rich word used to mean communion, participation, generous sharing, shared financial risks as in a business partnership, or marriage in which everything belongs to both. It is expressed in hospitality, shared meals, pooled resources and mutual practical loving support for one another.

The prayers

Jesus taught that prayer was the basis of his life and was vital for the life and ministry of his community of disciples. They prayed together in the temple courts at the set hours of prayer, until the rift with Judaism set in, and they also met for prayer in their homes as need arose (Acts 4.23; 12.12).

Around the world today, there are thousands of Small Christian Communities, within the historic churches as well as newer expressions of church, which continue to promote the same ethos of ‘koinonia’ as the earliest church communities described here. All are an inspiration to us as we seek for more authentic expressions of the church in our own context. See New Way Links

Global warming, climate change, environmental damage and the looming peak oil crisis has caused many to rethink their way of life and there is plenty of evidence of a movement towards lifestyles of greater simplicity, sharing and mutual support at a local level. We recommend that someone in your group looks at Transition Culture and provides a brief report on the kind of things that are happening.

 

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 Prologue 1:1 - 5 Prologue
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

See also:

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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