This week's readings continue with the series begun last week:
- Acts 3:12-19
- Psalm 4
- 1John 3:1-7
- Luke 24:36b-48
Full texts are available at the RCL web site.
These readings are from the RCL list and may vary slightly in denominational lectionaries.
The reading from Acts comes from the same extended story as last week's passage, although it actually occurs earlier in the narrative than the order in the lectionary suggests:
- Acts 3:1-10 Peter and John heal a lame man at the Temple
- Acts 3:11-26 Peter's sermon after the healing
- Acts 4:1-4 Peter and John arrested and detained in custody
- Acts 4:5-22 Peter and John before the Sanhedrin
- Acts 5:23-31 Peter and John reinstated to the Christian community
This extended story provides the author of LukeActs with two opportunities to place a significant theological address on the lips of Peter:
- In Acts 3:11-26 Peter addresses the "Israelites" who had acted out of ignorance when they "rejected the Holy and Righteous One ... and killed the Author of life whom God raised from the dead" (3:14-15). This same Jesus, described as the "servant/child" [Greek: paidon] of God in 3:13, is now poised in the heavens and awaiting divine consent to return at the time when all the ancient prophecies are to come true. As the children of the prophets it is not yet too late for them to embrace this one who they had so recently rejected.
- In Acts 4:5-22 Peter addresses the Council: "their rulers and elders and scribes." His address falls into two sections as Peter first responds to the questions prompted by the miraculous healing, and then refuses to accept the Council's decision to ban them from speaking further about Jesus.
In the first case, Peter is said to be acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he bears witness to the death and resurrection, including the blunt assertion that those sitting in judgment had already shown themselves to be incompetent builders who had overlooked the stone (see the 047 The Rejected Stone tradition for more information on this theme) that really mattered: the one through whom alone God was offering salvation to all people:Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is 'the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:8-12, NRSV)
The final verse of this opening statement has often been ripped from its literary (and quite fictional) context and pressed into service as a definitive statement on the exclusively Christian nature of salvation, and the futility of all other religious faiths. A historical-critical approach to this passage would see it, first of all, as the creation of Luke, with no basis in any historical memory of an actual speech by Peter.
In the second case, Peter simply refuses to accept the discipline of the Council and invokes a higher authority:But Peter and John answered them,
"Whether it is right in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge;for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20, NRSV)
Working within the conventions of Greek and Roman historiography, Luke created appropriate speeches for selected characters at key points in his narrative:
None of these speeches are to be taken as historical transcripts, or even as garbled memories of actual speeches, songs and prayers. To the extent that they have some semblance of verisimilitide, that is simply a testimony to the author's literary skill.
Each of them serves the literary and theological purposes of the author, and has been created for that reason.
We can invoke these texts as evidence for the theology of Luke, writing early in the second century; but not as evidence for the opinions of Peter, let alone Jesus. In neither case can we move directly from biblical text to contemporary theology, whether that be a theology of salvation, or a theology of dissent from abusive authority. The dynamics of faithfulness in a community that seeks to keep alive the dangerous memory of Jesus (to use Elizabeth Johnson's evocative phrase) are far more complex that simple citations of biblical texts, and especially when we are dealing with one of the texts John Shelby Spong has called the Terrible Texts.
The reading from 1John 3:1-7 takes us into a very different world of thought.
While there continues to be a strong sense of differentiation from "the world," it is a polarity of spiritual enlightenment rather than opposing social institutions such as we see in Luke-Acts.
The idea that Jesus will return is seen in the phrase "when he appears we shall be like him," but the expectation of what will happen at the appearing seems to have moved beyond the raw anticipation of apocalyptic judgment and reward. Now what is anticipated is the complete revelation of the true spiritual character of the believer.
This future hope is understood as a stimulus to personal holiness, rather than as an excuse to imagine the punishment soon to be meted out to one's opponents.
The theme of love which runs so strongly through 1John is a narrower and more sectarian version of the generosity of spirit that Jesus himself seems to have practiced and taught. Love features a great deal in this epistle, but it is love for each other within the circle of the community. It does not extend to the opponents, now labelled as "many antichrists." And it does not seem to apply to stranger and enemy, as in the earliest Jesus traditions.
The following pages from the Jesus Database may be of interest:
The Gospel reading from Luke 24:36b-48 is the culmination of Luke's story of the appearance to the two disciples at Emmaus, but it also very similar to GJohn's story of Jesus appearing to the Eleven on Easter night (John 20:19-23).
Indeed the parallels are so strong, that it is hard to imagine that Luke is not writing with some knowledge of the story of Thomas:
John 20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."
Luke 24:36b While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
John 20:20,24-29 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Luke 24:37-40 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
John 20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Luke does not have this episode as he will have the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost in Acts 2.
John does not have anything like this episode, unless it is John 21:9-14.
Luke 24:41-43 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
John 20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Luke 24:44-48 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
The following pages are also relevant to this week's texts:
- 1John - brief introduction to the letter
- LukeActs - Luke-Acts as an early 2C document
- Antichrist Myth - introduction to the Antichrist tradition
- Behind Locked Doors - mapping the Easter appearances tradition
- Easter Tradition - texts and complexes
- LukeActs Speeches - list of speeches in Luke-Acts
- Terrible Texts - part of the Study Guide for Sins of Scripture
The following pages in the Jesus Database are relevant to this week's readings:
- 002 Jesus Apocalyptic Return
- 003 Bread And Fish
- 018 Revealed to Disciples
- 047 The Rejected Stone
- 114 Love Your Enemies
- 240 Passion Resurrection Prophecy
- 364 These are Written
- 386 Faith against Sight
- 479 The Promised Spirit
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: