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MARCH 30, 2008: SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 2:42-47
I Peter 1:3-9
John 20:1931

Today's first reading provides us with the first of Luke's "summaries:" an idealistic, brief rundown of what's going on in the earliest Jerusalem Christian community. Obviously, every thing's going well. "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need."

Lucan scholars emphasize two points about these Acts summaries. First, as I mentioned above, they're idealistic. The evangelist is more interested in informing his readers about how things should be instead of how they actually were. His eyes are focused on the future, not the past. Second, these small recaps of the church's status and growth hold the Acts narratives together. It's presumed Luke had received a series of unconnected narratives from "those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning, and ministers of the word." He ties these stories together with his summaries, making the point that Jesus' faith is not only deeply lived by his first disciples, but also that his faith is steadily being implanted in the hearts of more and more people.

Luke's summaries set an example for all Jesus' followers, forcing us to ask two questions. What are we trying to accomplish by living his faith, and what about that faith joins the disconnected episodes of our life?

The answer to both questions revolves around the same concept. Jesus' disciples are convinced their faith-filled actions can change the world. They presume they're called to carry on Jesus' work. John's newly risen Jesus informs his disciples, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." In his recent book, God and Empire, John Dominic Crossan compares the ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus. "John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise." Jesus expected his followers to buy into that franchise.

Against common belief, the historical Jesus wasn't "sent" to set up a church, initiate religious hierarchical structures, or create a series of new doctrines and dogmas. In John's Easter Sunday appearance, Jesus expects his followers to accomplish one task. Having received the Spirit, they're now to understand, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." Above all, they're to recognize their power to imitate God's forgiveness of people. (Scholars presume no disciple of Jesus - imitating him - would ever retain anyone's sins. But we must understand what happens when we don't forgive.)

Forgiving others creates problems. The author of I Peter, probably delivering a baptismal homily which was later turned into a letter, warns his community, "You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials." No one can be a witness for God's forgiving personality without suffering the same pain God's forgiving Son endured.

In both the second and third readings, much is made of the fact that those for whom these writings are composed never came into contact with the "historical" Jesus. "Although you have never seen him, you love him," the I Peter author writes, "and without seeing you believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith's goal, your salvation." John's Jesus tells Thomas, "You became a believer because you saw me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed."

It's the risen Jesus whom we surface in our daily acts of faith. It's that Jesus who becomes present among us when we attempt to carry on the ministry of the historical Jesus.

His ministry both motivates us and ties our separate acts of faith together. Unless we buy into Jesus' franchise, our faith lives would be just a series of disconnected events.