Third Sunday of Easter

According to the prologue to Luke’s Gospel,

May 8, 2011

First Reading
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Commentary on Acts 2:14a, 36-41

According to the prologue to Luke’s Gospel,

Luke-Acts constitutes an orderly written account addressed to “Theophilus” so that he might know the surety (asphaleia) of the matters he received by word of mouth (Luke 1:3-4).  Luke combines these two words surety and know again at Acts 2:36. As Peter continues speaking plainly (apophthengomai) at Pentecost, in one oral stroke he informs his audience about God’s act concerning Jesus and their culpability:  “Assuredly (asphalos) therefore let all the house of Israel know that God made this Jesus whom you yourselves crucified both Lord and Messiah.”

Luke (or Peter through Luke) declares what God did in Jesus as a certainty; it is a truth they themselves have already accepted by faith. Peter has no doubt that God has raised Jesus, and therefore he can preach it with surety despite the reality of the crucifixion.  The disciples’ faith in Jesus’ life beyond the crucifixion and the grave stands face-to-face with the people accused of perpetrating and witnessing Jesus’ ignominious death. God raised and anointed this same Jesus. God subverted and reversed humanity’s act of humiliation and annihilation.   Faith confronts and transcends reality with a surety of knowing existentially what God has done. 

Convinced of their culpability in Jesus’ death the audience seeks the appropriate response. They ask their “brothers” the apostles what they should do.  Luke first tells us how the audience felt about their guilt. They experienced a remorse manifested in physical pain (2:37). Second, they responded to the pain with a desire to act. We can feel tremendous grief about our participation (passive or aggressive, intentional or unintentional) in creating the suffering of others, but unless we act to make things better or right, we have yet to respond appropriately. 

Peter prescribes repentance for the forgiveness of their sins (2:38). The killing of Jesus has not created an impasse between the guilty and God; their sin is not unforgivable. How easily and quickly we act to burn the bridge between guilt and forgiveness. Yet feelings of pain and expressing a desire to alleviate the situation do not constitute repentance. Metanoia results from hearing, feeling, and a conviction to act (2:37; Luke 16:19-31). Here, metanoia signifies a change of mind about the wrongfulness of the suffering and death of Jesus and how one should move forward in light of this recognition and acceptance.

The Greek verb translated repent is metanoeo, which is a combination of meta meaning with or after and noeo meaning to perceive or think. It means to have an afterthought or to think critically about something or someone and come to a reasonable decision that involves changing one’s perception or thinking. Right acting or doing is preceded by right perception or thinking.  Our actions are the clearest indicators of how we think. Peter is asking the Pentecost audience to change their minds about who they believe Jesus to be. The new believers should follow up their new perception by being baptized in the name of Jesus the Christ (2:38). Participation in this intentional and visible act becomes initially the clearest manifestation of their repentance.  The need for repentance is sometimes made evident through preaching or teaching, reading, meditation, or in open dialogue with fellow human beings, etc.

Our text associates the promised gifting of the Spirit with baptism. The promise of the Holy Spirit is God’s gift.  God gives the gift to whom, when, and how God chooses. Instructively, 2:41 states, “Those who welcomed the word were baptized and about 3,000 were added in that day.” But no mention is made of a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit upon those whom the disciples baptized that day. Throughout Acts, we find diverse relationships between the Holy Spirit and baptism. Sometimes the Spirit is given prior to baptism (10:44-48); at other times we find no explicit relationship between the Spirit and baptism (8:36-48; cf. 8:12-16). But God is no respecter of gender, ethnicity, or nationality (2:1-21; 15:6-11) in the gifting of God’s Spirit. 

God promised the gift of God’s Spirit to their generation and to their children’s generation. But the promise is also for all those who have yet to hear the promise and/or are still distant or estranged (pasin tois eis makran) from God, and for whomever God invites to receive the gift of the Spirit (2:39). The father of the prodigal son saw and welcomed his son when he was still at a distance (makran) (Luke 15:20). So God’s promises are also for those who are yet estranged or far off–some may be coming and others may be still stuck in the gutter.

Even when it comes to giving God’s Spirit, God is inclusive and not exclusive. While humans have their own ideas of who is far and near and would favor those who we deem nearest God, God’s judgments are not our own.  So even when we determine people to be far or farther from God than others, lack of proximity does not eliminate them from access to God’s promises.  When denominations, churches, or individuals judge persons to be far from God’s gifts and promises by virtue of their gender, ethnicity, race, class, sexual orientation, or age, etc. such evaluations are not divine but specious.

“And with many other words [Peter] witnessed thoroughly (diamartyromai)” (2:40). These words remind us that Luke (and other biblical authors) did not write everything down; that God’s Spirit sometimes inspired and inspires words that we do not have access to; and that while humans are limited by pen and ink and other mortal and fallible boundaries, God is not contained. God is not limited by the content or length of our sermons and monographs.  God is not constrained even by the many words in the Bible.

God always has more to say than what humans can express or capture. The resurrection of Jesus serves as a perennial testimony of how God’s acts are not our acts and are at times diametrically opposed to our acts¬. When God raised and exalted Jesus, God defied the boundaries of human knowledge and experience, not by solving the mystery of life and death but by reasserting, in a new way, God’s power over both.