EASTER READINGS – ACTS OF THE APOSTLES & JOHN’S GOSPEL [1]

INTRO: Throughout Easter period the Liturgy gives us readings from 2 documents – The Acts of the Apostles (attributed to Luke) and the Fourth Gospel (attributed to John). Why? – the Acts is sometimes called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit as it gives an account of the life, mission and challenges of that primitive Church, led, pushed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. John’s Gospel (the latest document of the NT to be composed and edited) is the most ‘sacramental’ with a presentation of Jesus giving us ‘Signs of Glory’, focussing on three Passover events and the foundation Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. So Acts gives us the narrative story of the expansion and development of the Earliest Church and John gives us a mature reflection the sources of the Church’s energy and experience of Jesus Risen among them

[1] WHO IS LUKE? Scholars love to debate who the authors are (the names attributed are often not reliable) and only the letters of Paul include the name of the claimed author (and even then that is not reliable!). However, this is secondary to the Church’s recognition that these documents are ‘sacred’ – part of the authentic Word God speaks to and through His Church. And all 4 Gospels (and Acts and other NT documents ) are as much the product of the Christian communities from which they flow as they are of individual authors.  So who is the author of the Acts? Certainly the same person as the Gospel of Luke and someone who was the companion of Paul in at least some of his missionary journeys and endeavours. Possibly the Luke who Paul mentions in two of his letters (Colossians 4: 14 & 2 Timothy 4: 11), his ‘fellow-worker’ and his ‘physician’. So Paul’s preaching has influenced both the Gospel and Acts attributed to ‘Luke’, but the author has his own insights. He is not a biographer, nor recording a history – he is proclaiming Christ Jesus as experienced by the earliest Church. Also Luke probably a Gentile – a so-called ‘God-fearer’, one close to the Jewish community without being Jewish or formally ‘initiated’ as a Jew – ie not circumcised. Only Gentile write in the Bible. Tis has important influence on both documents.

[2] Gospel and Acts – one ‘book’ in two ‘chapters’ A sense that these two documents are almost a continuous narrative – the story of Jesus of Nazareth, followed by the story of Christ Risen in His Church. Like a ‘dyptic’ – two paintings connected to together but capable of being seen individually. The ‘hinge’ holding the two together is the Ascension and the Mission to go out and witness. Themes in Luke’s Gospel also explored in a different way in his Acts. The themes in the Gospel arise from Luke’s experience of mission with Paul and experience of the origins and growth of a predominantly (but not exclusively) Gentile Church. His Gospel emphasises – Jesus as a Prophet (Nazareth synagogue), coming form the world of poverty (infancy narratives and beatitudes, widow’s mite etc) ; Jesus the mercy of God (parables of forgiveness – lost sheep, coin, son); Jesus and women, Jesus and the Samaritans (the Good Samaritan – non-Jews); The Holy Spirit and prayer in life of Jesus; Jesus and healing. In the Acts we have similar themes – healing in Peter and Paul’s missions, Mission to the Samaritans, early community powerfully sharing all things in common, caring for the poor; the Spirit leading the Mission; crossing into new cultures and ethnicities.

[3] What community experience does the Gospel and Acts flow from? Newly converted communities that were predominantly Gentile, with some Jews who embraced Jesus as Lord; predominantly poor (eg slaves in Corinth) with some from the governing elite and commercial world; predominantly illiterate with some intellectuals (the ‘Areopagus’ in Athens) . Paul’s mission begins in Syria and areas of the Middle East surrounding Israel; then moves into ‘Asia Minor’ (modern Turkey) – the Greek world; then finally into Macedonia and the Roman world. Communities unique in the Roman Empire (a highly stratified society) in the equality found around the Table of Word and Eucharist between between governors and slaves, illiterate and educated, poor and wealthy.  

[4] Preoccupation with relationship of Gentiles world with Jewish world – status on Jews who do not believe in Jesus. Did Gentiles have to become Jews (ie be circumcised) in order to find salvation in Christ? Gospel begins with Holy Spirit (in Jerusalem, centre of the Jewish world – at the Temple) overshadowing the ‘anawim’, the faithful poor of Israel (Zachariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna) – Simeon recognises infant Jesus as ‘the Glory of Israel and the Light of the Gentiles’ – The Acts conclude with Paul in Rome (centre of Gentile world) witnessing to the Jewish Leaders of the Jewish community in Rome – and leaves the question of the status before God of the Covenant, of the Jewish faith and people after the coming of Jesus as an open question – waiting for the Holy Spirit to ‘lead us into all truth!) – Decree of the Vat II on God’s faithfulness to the Covenant with the Jewish People.

PRAY TO THE HOLY SPIRIT THAT WE MIGHT EXPERIENCE THE RISEN JESUS AMONG US, WITHIN US, EMPOWERING US AND SENDING US IN MISSION TO 21st CENTURY WORLD AND ITS ISSUES

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