Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1. 6-14 : “An Alternative to Empire”
For this last week of Easter,
the Reflection will cover the Sunday reading from Acts
(See Introductory Notes)
Begin by Using the Study Method as outlined
Recall a time when you took over a job from someone much more experienced than yourself, who is no longer there to support and encourage you. How did it feel? What did you need at that moment? How did you cope?
Reflection on the text
To appreciate the timing of the disciples’ question to Jesus, “Are you going to restore the kingdom,” read verses 3-5. This seems to be the long-awaited moment for Roman occupation to end, for restoration of Israel's freedom.
Wrong! It’s not about ‘when’ but ‘where’ and 'how' God's Kingdom is to be manifested. It’s not about human force and violence but the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are to witness to a better way of being human, a new society - God's reign of fairness. George Lings describes this as 'The Samaritan Safari' and 'The Ends of the Earth Expedition', using it as a model for the mission of the church today: reaching beyond fringe members, to the de-churched and those who have never had contact with the church. Safe, ‘Jerusalem’ church is left behind as they travel out and create new disciple communities along the way. They don't try to drag new followers of Jesus back to Judea and the Temple! (See below for more background information)
some questions for group discussion:
- If the community in which you worship is thought of as Jerusalem ......
..... where is 'Samaria' for you – i.e. where most of the people are not too different, but not practising Christians, and maybe hold some strange beliefs or no belief at all?
..... where are ‘the ends of the earth’ - i.e. the places of radically different culture from your own, with very different values, beliefs, social or racial background, well beyond your comfort zone?
- What are the features of, and points of friction with, these cultures that you have to face as individuals and as a Christian community? How do you see your role? In what ways are you 'witnessing'?
Have a map of the area where you live, on a pin board, and some coloured pins for this prayer time. Alternatively, lay the map on the floor and use sticky markers.
Each use a pin (or marker) of the same colour to indicate on the map where you live. Put others, of a different colour, where you spend the main part of your day-time life: where you work, study, play or volunteer your services. Add others of a third colour to indicate the location of a group in which you are involved or someone with whom you are in a long-term caring and supportive relationship.
Then name and pray for those individuals and groups, that God's kingdom will come among them. Finish by saying the Grace, including all these people too.
- Luke's Gospel and Acts can be read as a tract offering an alternative to the Roman Empire. The first Christian communities resisted Empire in many ways and offered a different vision of how society should be. Name the 'Empires' we contend with today. What features of Empire (i.e. values, lifestyle choices etc.) should we be resisting and how? How do we witness to God's alternative vision? (If you get stuck on this, see more background information.)
- God's kingdom is much wider than the church and evident in society. Share together some examples of the presence of the kingdom in your community and context – that is places and people where the values and lifestyle of Jesus are clearly seen: marked by love, forgiveness, justice, peace etc... What does this say to us about the way we tend to draw lines between church and society?
- How can you support and empower each other within your group to be more effective witnesses to God's kingdom and to push the boundaries of God's gentle reign further out into society?
- The last part of the Lord's Prayer, ' for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours ...' was added at a much later date than when the gospels were written. How has the Church misused power in the past and what notions of power should it avoid today?
More background information
- Encounters on the Edge, no 30, Discernment in Mission: Navigation Aids for Mission-shaped Processes, available from www.encountersontheedge.org.uk or by post from The Sheffield Centre, Wilson Carlile Campus, Cavendish Street, Sheffield S3 7RZ.
- Acts, by Loveday Alexander, published by BRF in 2006,
- Acts – The Gospel of the Spirit, by Justo Gonzales, Orbis, 2001, ISBN 1-57075-398-9.
- In tackling question 2 about 'Empire' today, we suggest you think about the behaviour of often totally unaccountable global multinational companies that impose their will on nations and peoples as they pursue their agendas, usually with little regard for the impact of their activities upon communities and societies. The United States has also been likened to an Empire similar to Rome. It certainly behaves very often without any sense of responsibility or accountability.
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
Return to Reflection