This is an unusual week in that the first lesson and the gospel reading are written by the same author. You may or may not be aware that the book of the Acts of the Apostles is St Luke’s second of a two volume work. Therefore, there is a unified theological project at work in Luke’s gospel and Luke’s treatment of the early church.
There are at least two really vital ideas at work in these texts for this Sunday (3rd Sunday of Easter). The author of the “Surviving the Bible” devotional points out one of these themes which is the delineation of insiders and outsiders. In the Acts reading (Acts 3:12-19) we are told, “When Peter saw it, he addressed the crowd.” The “IT” he saw was the wonder and amazement the Jewish crowd near the Temple demonstrated after Peter healed a lame man.
Peter goes on to excoriate the crowd because they continue to be disbelievingly amazed at the power that resides in the name of Jesus. Their amazement is a sign that they still do not believe or comprehend that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. Making the lame “leap like a deer (Isaiah 35:6)” is one of the messianic signs. That the Israelites still have not pivoted their attitudes toward Jesus and now the disciples is really beginning to piss Peter off!
Peter might have done well to have a little more patience as he rallied against the Israelites for denying the “Author of life.” For sure Jewish religious and political leaders collaborated with Roman imperial officials in the arrest, trial and by implication, crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps some in the Jewish crowd even preferred a guerrilla figure like Barabbas to a peacenik like Jesus.* But the people of Jerusalem had at best one week of experience with Jesus (in Matthew, Mark and Luke). If the typical Passover crowds arrived in Jerusalem that year there would have been upwards of one hundred thousand in a city with a normal population of forty thousand. What are the chances many of them got a glimpse of or heard anything from Jesus? Even Jesus’ “Temple cleansing” may have been barely noticed by all but the most proximate.
Meanwhile, Peter spent at least a year with Jesus in close and intimate contact and denied him just as vehemently as the Israelites had at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Anyone one heard of the psychological principle of projection? “(he) doth protest too much, methinks…” Of course, Peter concedes that the people acted in ignorance but that was only after landing a few stingingly critical remarks.
Of course Peter’s critique of his compatriots is accurate even if a bit hypocritical. He points out that they don’t understand their own community faith traditions. If they knew their own spiritual heritage they would have recognized Jesus as “Messianic.” The Israelites had lost the depth of their community consciousness.
Bringing this social commentary up to date, Christian Piatt, author of “Surviving the Bible” comments on the superficiality of contemporary social networks,
“Today’s social media culture offers a social fabric that is miles wide and inches deep. We stay “connected” to people by clicking a thumbs-up on a recent picture or clever statement, or offer a heart emoticon of sympathy when they are struggling. But it’s all safe, expedient, and superficial. It doesn’t demand more from us than we’re ever willing to give. Moreover, we can customize the flow of information coming to us by who or what we pay attention to and what we choose to ignore. We build insular, self-affirming echo chambers that indulge static ways of thought and affirm that acquaintances, rather than deep relationships, are the new normal.” (Surviving the Bible, p. 149-150)
The second issue which is very evidently crucial to Luke’s presentation of Jesus is how Jesus’s teaching culminating in his death and resurrection becomes the lens through which all of scripture is to read and interpreted.
Jesus has claimed to be the fulfillment of the “law and the prophets” earlier in Luke (Luke 16:16, stated even more clearly in Matthew 5:17). But for the second time in Luke chapter 24 Jesus has conducted an Easter day biblical seminar with disciples still uncertainly what to make of Jesus’ death, let alone news of his resurrection.
The famous “Road to Emmaus” story precedes our less famous passage for this coming Sunday. In that story Jesus walks with two former (non-twelve) disciples, St Cleopas and St TheOtherGuy. Although they don’t know his identity until after he leaves them, Jesus’ walk with them includes teaching, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) All of scripture is to be read through the interpretive lens of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Now for the second time in this same chapter Jesus points a group of disciples, this time members of the original twelve, to understand all of scripture as they pertain to Jesus. The text says, he “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” and the Greek word implies that the opening of their minds was like drawing open a curtain.
I believe this is one of the most important factors to comprehending what Jesus (God incarnate) is all about. He is the key to understanding who God is, everything Jesus is and does is an expression of who God is and what God is about not only in Jesus’ time but in all times. Therefore, we must read the Old Testament through the lens of the nonviolent, self-giving, self-emptying (kenosis) God incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth. This is no small challenge but Luke doubles down on this interpretive method having Jesus do it twice in one chapter.
What would it look like to have our minds opened to understand the scriptures so that we might find the God of Jesus Christ in all its writings? There is disagreement on this. There are not a few scriptures that present God as very unlike the benevolent God Jesus shows us. Should those scripture’s be cast out? Reinterpreted? It’s hard to say. But one thing is made absolutely clear in Luke: Jesus’s life, teaching, death and resurrection/ascension are the crucial key to understand God and interpreting scripture. Whatever means we use to discover this God there the ends is the revelation of Jesus Christ, raised from the dead!
* Pilate releasing a murderous revolutionary by the consensus of the crowd is one of the most historically unrealistic details in the gospels. Pilate regularly sent honest people to death on crosses in the hopes of executing a few actual subversives or making plain his zero-tolerance policy on activism. That Pilate would have such a subversive in custody and would willingly release him does not make any sense. There is no evidence of a clemency policy observed by Rome during the Passover and even if there was its hard to believe Pilate would have observed it. For what it is worth, I view this detail of the passion accounts as parable detailing the fickleness of the crowds.