Lectionary Readings for April 7. Acts5:27-32, Ps 118:14-29 or Ps 150, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31
This is one of those weeks where the readings do not go far enough-both the Acts and the John definitely need some more “reading around” the stated text to give enough context for understanding.
It is weird to read this John passage over two Sundays-when most of it occurred on one day and it is written down in a constant stream of action words. I can’t stand putting down a novel in the middle of an intense scene. And that is what this feels like! Easter Sunday, after Mary talks to Jesus, she immediately tells the disciples, and then Jesus appears to them. Without delay, we launch into the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Thomas situation.We should read to the end of verse 25. (Then in verse 26, a week later, Jesus appears again when Thomas is present-there's the natural break!) Chopping the story up disturbs the mood of breathless rush, steals away excitement, and turns the action movie style into talking heads. Eeek. In our contemporary world of sound bites and short attention spans, why do we take a fast, intricate story climax and slow it to a crawl? I’m all for study and the “slow work” of letting this story soak in, but not at the expense of losing the “flood” of excitement innate in the original telling! Read it all, read it fast, then sit down in a coffee shop (or upper room) to take the action apart and chew on the meanings, just like you’d do after seeing a movie with friends!
The bit from Acts makes little sense unless you read verses 12 to the end of the chapter. Then you have enough context to understand how the apostles are getting into trouble. They are healing and teaching from the most prominent spot in Jerusalem, the temple-and people are crowding the temple entrance. I wonder why the high priest has such a hard time with this. With lots of people there, he should be inviting them in! The apostles weren’t telling folks to leave their Jewish faith, so it seems the high priest could have engaged people even if they weren’t quite on the same page as the apostles. One reason they couldn’t engage is because they were jealous. This issue is still a problem today! We get “jealous” of our own understandings and want to have things under our control. There is a lot of power and privilege tied up in the high priests actions-and he is largely bound by the traditions, expectations, and perks of his role. How would people have reacted had he engaged the apostles differently? Could he have done something different? An insight into that question is in the Pharisees suggestion in verses 38-39 “So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them-in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" ” The advice is partially followed, the apostles are not kept in jail, but the high priest still flogs them and demands that they be quiet. He couldn't quite keep his hands off! He certainly didn't use the opportunity to invite people into the temple. There is a challenge here for us too. When something new comes along, that doesn’t quite fit our established way of thinking and doing, how do we respond? How can we wait to see if something is of God without feeling threatened?