Second Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2019
The 1st readings for the Easter Season are from the Acts of the Apostles. This is the second work of St Luke and has been called the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit”. Acts begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Luke wishes to show that the Spirit will guide the Apostles, mostly Peter and Paul in preaching the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. We must always remember that St Luke has a wide view of history and will show us that the spirit guiding the Apostles was also present at the beginning of the world and the great events of both the old and the new Testaments. He is a most careful craftsman and will build his narrative very slowly and deliberately and we will lose some of this. The Lectionary (readings in Church) follow a three- year cycle (this year we read Cycle C) and Acts is used in all three of them. Indeed, the descent of the Holy Spirit is not read until Pentecost, itself 6 weeks from now. This somewhat interrupts the flow, but we will fill in any critical gaps.
We read today from the 5th Chapter of Acts. It is the third time the Apostles have appeared in public. The first time was immediately after the descent of the Spirit.
3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
4 And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Acts 2:3–6
This first speech was directed to the Jews who had come to the Pentecost feast, and he reviews the history of their people with them from the perspective of Jesus the Messiah.
The next time they go out in public was to the temple:
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o‘clock hour of prayer.
2 And a man crippled from birth was carried and placed at the gate of the temple called “the Beautiful Gate” every day to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple. Acts 3:1–2
The beggar is cured but Peter and John immediately tell the people – all Jews – that are present that it was not magic but a miracle. Magic is the power of the individual; a miracle is from God.
12 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this, and why do you look so intently at us as if we had made him walk by our own power or piety?
13 The God of Abraham, (the God) of Isaac, and (the God) of Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, when he had decided to release him. Acts 3:12–13
Here they remind them that this is being true to their heritage.
22 and wrought before our eyes signs and wonders, great and dire, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and his whole house. Deuteronomy 6:22 (NAB)
This of course also reflects the actions of Jesus. To take just one:
43 And a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years, who (had spent her whole livelihood on doctors and) was unable to be cured by anyone,
44 came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped.
45 Jesus then asked, “Who touched me?” While all were denying it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are pushing and pressing in upon you.”
46 But Jesus said, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.”
47 When the woman realized that she had not escaped notice, she came forward trembling. Falling down before him, she explained in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been healed immediately.
48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 8:43–48 (NAB)
This of course got around
11 The crowds, meanwhile, learned of this and followed him. He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured. Luke 9:11 (NAB)
The people who the Apostles see today are presumably still all Jews but the language is more general and would be understood by Greeks as well. We can see why Peter and John were so concerned to be certain to explicitly declare that the power was not theirs but the spirit of Jesus.
Paul is to have the same issue later:
11 So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul
12 that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Acts 19:11–12
The rest of that chapter is a somewhat humorous confrontation between Paul and exorcists and magicians of many varieties. It concludes with the competition ceding to Jesus.
This is the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Apostles. Yet, we must remember that they are not the first persons to give themselves over to the Spirit. As is always true in Luke. Think first of Mary.
35 And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. Luke 1:35
Even Mary needs to be guided by the Spirit in her life. Therefore:
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him.
26 It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.
27 He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him. Luke 2:25–27
Simeon then reveals the role of Jesus and the consequences on her, and indeed us.
Miracles were an important part of the Apostles’ tool kit and we might wish to have it. Yet miracles are not only not magic, they are not automatic. Jesus cured the 10 lepers, and only one really understood. Look at the apostles themselves: they saw all the miracles of Jesus, and when he approached the crucifixion, they ran so fast they left skid marks. It is only when they had the Spirit that they understood what these events truly meant. Although, I think there are more miracles than we may immediately see; I admit we may not experience any directly ourselves, much less be a means to display one. But we all have been granted gifts and skills to be used to spread the Gospel. Whatever they are, we will need the Spirit to recognize them and use them well. They are given to us to make us apostles, to make us act.