Commentary on Acts 10:34-43
As I am writing this at a street side café in San Francisco, out of nowhere a young white male attempts to sell me a three-thousand-dollar Louis Vuitton bag for three hundred dollars. In order to convince the viewing public that it is not stolen, he says his friend works for Louis Vuitton and he got a good deal on it. It is a hard sell. Even the young man doesn’t seem to be convinced by what he is saying.
Easter too is a hard sell. The story of Jesus’ resurrection is a hard sell. When Peter says, “God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen, not by everyone but by us. We are witnesses whom God chose beforehand” (Acts 10:40-41, CEB), it sounds even less convincing.
If one reads Acts and the Gospels empathetically, in their Jewish context, there are some difficult questions for the resurrection. Acts asks the most basic question in 1:6, “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” You see, the people of God had waited for centuries to be free from conquering empires: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now, Rome. That is supposed to be the work of the messiah.
Considering these passages from the perspective of an occupied people, what is the purpose of a messiah who doesn’t rescue God’s people from the clutches of Roman Imperial oppression or a resurrection that demonstrates the power of God without freeing the people? An empathetic reading suggests that the resurrection doesn’t do what it should have done, and the ascension allows the story about God’s people to settle into melancholic messianic anticipation again.
Peter’s explanation shouldn’t convince Cornelius or his family. But Cornelius is already convinced.
Following the previous sequence of Peter’s dream, it seems rather that it is Peter who is in need of convincing. Not that the resurrection happened, but that something else is happening. Through the inspiration of the Spirit at Pentecost, believers are distributing resources so no one has need, and the message of divine love is spreading through the cities of the empire. Acts is, as Justo Gonzalez suggests, the gospel of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in Acts infects and spreads through the Roman empire like a virus, gathering and collecting more and more folk into the expanding people of God.
For those conspiring with the Spirit, as it spreads through empire, resurrection becomes more than a fact to affirm, but rather a call to live into. The call of the resurrection looks something like this: live as if impossible justice were possible. Acts makes clear that Jesus’ crucifixion was an injustice perpetrated by “lawless ones” (Acts 2:23; 4:27; 5:30), and the resurrection is an impossible correction to this injustice.
Jesus, in Luke and Acts, was full of the Spirit (Luke 4:1; Acts 10:38) and as verse 38 relays, “traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed.” And in Acts, all believers have access to the Spirit which bids all towards divine justice, that impossible and elusive justice. Moreover, those who can have access to the Spirit are growing across geographies and ethnic differences.
What are the impossible justices today? Racial justice in the U.S. and action on climate change seem to be impossible issues to address, especially while propagandists attack the basic knowledge describing the problems we face. For those who “believe in” the resurrection, and even those who live towards it, the call must be to live as if racial justice and climate justice are possible. Indeed, how could one claim that Jesus rose from the dead on the one hand, but on the other act as if divine justice is too far out of reach? The Spirit beckons to a world otherwise.