Tuesday, April 6, 2021

April 18, 2021 - 3rd Sunday of Easter Season

                                   Biblical Words                                         [712]

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48. 

The resurrection of Jesus releases new power, opens old scriptures, and cancels old sins. 

Acts 3:12-19.  

The witness of the apostles to the resurrection of Jesus continues. 

We hear the speech of Peter addressed to Israelites in the temple, after Peter and John have healed a man lame from birth.  In healing the man they used the name of the risen Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:6). 

The speech opens in a challenging manner:  “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this…?”  Why are you surprised?  We are living in a time when God is doing amazing things for an undeserving people. 

The God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him (verse 13, NRSV).  

The details mentioned here follow the passion narrative of Luke’s Gospel (23:1-5, 13-25).  While the Israelites had handed Jesus over to death, God had raised him to life, and Peter and John are witnesses to that.  Because Jesus is risen, his name has power to effect good among those who confess him, and thus the lame man walks and leaps in the temple (as reported in 3:8). 

The turning point in the speech is more conciliatory: 

And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer (verses 17-18). 

A much larger destiny than local Jerusalemite politics was at work in the events leading to Jesus’ death.  Those who were implicated in that death, or were only consenting bystanders, are not accountable for it.  Even those who were on the streets of Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion receive the same call to which other believers have responded.  “Repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out” (verse 19). 

This reading in Acts is at first sight one of the more “anti-Jewish” passages in the New Testament, in the sense that it indicts the “Israelites” for killing Jesus.  However, this passage, as well as the others in the early chapters in Acts, makes particularly clear that Jesus is no longer dead. 

The resurrection makes the death of Jesus as well as his new life, an act of God.  The resurrection message is not about assigning guilt for a death; it is about life, and living again.  All the emphasis is on forgiveness – for all, not just those in the crowd on Good Friday. 

The resurrection faith proclaims life, not guilt! 

Psalm 4.  

The Psalm reading has some difficulties of text and language in its opening verses, making a comparison of translations useful. 

The Greek translators read the opening something like this:

“When I called, the God of my righteousness answered me.  In distress, you made room for me.  Pity me, and hear my prayer.” 

The translators read the same consonants as the later traditional Hebrew text, but vocalized them differently, giving a statement of past fact at the beginning instead of a plea to be heard (NRSV, following Hebrew, “Answer me when I call…”). 

This translation issue is of small importance – until the psalm is read as an early post-Easter lection.  The earliest Jesus followers found in this psalm the words of the risen Jesus, praying for and addressed to the people who had rejected him. 

Thus, these early (Greek-speaking) Christians would have heard the psalm in the following way: 

When I called, the God of my righteousness heard me. 

In distress you [God] gave me room. 
Have compassion on me, and listen to my prayer. 

Then, in the Greek version, the risen Lord speaks to those who have not recognized him: 

“How long, O you sons of men,

      will you be slow of heart? 
Why do you love vain things
      and seek after lies? 
Know that the Lord made His Holy One wondrous;
      the Lord will hear me when I cry to Him. 
Be angry, [but] do not sin;
      have remorse upon your beds
      for what you say in your hearts. 
Offer the sacrifice of righteousness,
      and hope in the Lord.” 

(This follows, but modifies, the translation of the Septuagint in The Orthodox Study Bible [St. Athanasius Academy, Elk Grove, CA; published by Thomas Nelson, 2008], with reference also to A New English Translation of the Septuagint [NETS; Oxford, 2000].)

Reading along in this way, the new believers continued to hear from their resurrected Lord.  He continued to speak in the scriptures about repentance and forgiveness as the meaning of his resurrection. 

I John 3:1-7.  

The readings from the Epistles continue in the First Letter of John, an extended meditation on the believers’ union with the Son of God.  That union is given to all believers and marks their lives with Jesus’ holy qualities. 

·        As the world did not know Jesus, so it does not know us children of God who are united with him (verse 1). 

·        As he was pure, so all who hope in him purify themselves (verse 3). 

·        As there was no sin in him, so “no one who abides in him sins” (verses 5-6). 

·        As he is righteous, so those who do right are righteous (verse 7). 

As usual in Johannine passages, there is a tantalizing mixture of description of ideal conditions with exhortation to become what you are.  You are children of God, therefore you obviously [should] live like children of God. 

This is a cogent homily for those who have recently heard the message of the resurrection:  They are summoned to a life in union with this risen Lord. 

Luke 24:36b-48.  

The Gospel reading is the passage in Luke in which the risen Jesus, at the end of Easter day, appears to the eleven disciples (or ten when John tells this episode, because doubting Thomas is absent, John 20:19-29). 

This is the passage that most insists that the risen Jesus had a real flesh and bone body with nail holes in his hands and feet.  (Note, John never says anything about feet—only hands and a pierced side.  Luke mentions feet, while other Gospels have no such story.)  Besides offering to let them touch his body, Jesus asks for something to eat, and they happen to have a piece of broiled fish, which they watch him eat (verses 39-43). 

There is here a certain rigorous forcing of the fleshiness of the incarnation.  (The same emphasis is in John’s prologue statement in 1:14:  the Logos did not become “body” [soma]; it became “meat” [sarx] and lived among us.)  Jesus’ physical body, then, is the final radical guarantee that Jesus really was human when he was raised from the dead, not a ghost and not only a vision.  The resurrection was a mighty act of God, for the redemption of sinful peoples.  That divine action truly and completely entered human history.  Such is the import of this fleshly emphasis of Luke. 

The other main purpose of this appearance of the risen Jesus is to guide the disciples in the reading of the scriptures.  “Everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled” (verse 44, NRSV).  And we hear a summary of the essentials of the faith, as it can be unfolded from those scriptures, given by Jesus himself: 

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 (verses 46-48). 

 In last week’s reading from the Gospel of John, we heard of this appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples, including Thomas’ efforts on behalf of the doubters of the ages.  Here, before the Easter season advances too far, it is appropriate that we hear this wider-world perspective on salvation history – which is Luke’s special gift to Christian tradition. 

 

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