In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading is the first sermon from Peter after the resurrection. The literary style is not that of a Galilean Jew, but the content is believable as a very early expression of the initial preaching about Jesus. In this first century account of the beginnings of Christianity, Peter is a key figure in the growth of the early church, together with Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles. It is significant that it is a Jewish audience in Jerusalem that Peter is addressing. Jesus is referred to as the Nazarean and there is uncertainty whether this means a man from Nazareth or one specially dedicated to God, as for example, Samson in the Old Testament, called a Nazirite. The understanding of Christian beliefs develops over time, so Peter speaks about God working through Jesus where we might be clear that Jesus is Himself God; but he does see Jesus as the fulfilment of the hopes of the Old Testament and quotes Psalm 16 verses 8 to 11, which was a song originally about someone faithful to the Lord, maybe king David, being looked after by Him; (it is used for the responsorial psalm this day). In the sermon Peter accuses the Jews of engineering the death of Jesus in an anti-Semitic way; this attitude was decried by the Church most noticeably in the 20th century in the Second Vatican Council initiated by Pope, Saint John XXIII, with the words: “Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any person, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” (The Church and non-Christian religions, Nostra aetate, Oct. 1962). But for us the positive message from Peter’s sermon is that the Spirit of God is now poured out into creation because of the resurrection of Jesus destroying the deadliness of death and the power of evil in our lives.
The second reading is part of an address to early Christians, probably Gentile converts. It is about what it means to be a Christian, noting that it is brought about by Christ – the writer uses the word ‘ransomed’, but no words can really capture the mystery of it. The mystery is that the final age has been initiated thanks to the work of God in Christ, through His life and death. The imagery of the sacrificial lamb which is used is derived from the bloody sacrifices of the Jewish Temple which at the time of this letter had been destroyed. And those addressed are living like people in exile and are urged to conduct themselves reverently in this situation; this reflects how the Jews were when they were in exile in Babylon, they had to work at it to keep themselves true to their calling. So, though we are elevated in our being through the work of God in Christ, we are for the time being in this world and must live here in a way becoming of our status.
I love the story at the end of Luke meaning that you cannot be human without other humans and to be Christian is to belong to a community. Relationships between people is often supported and sometimes begun over a meal – sometimes just a drink and a chat. Just as this encourages us in our lives so does talking and listening – learning the way others live and so working out how to better ourselves, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Even in our modern times there seems to be need for lots of coffee shops, eating places and other social media – people need people. So the early Christians at once developed the practice of meeting regularly in someone’s house. There they heard about the life of Jesus and the meaning of so much of the Bible; at these times also they shared a meal – it included the ritual of breaking and sharing bread. At times like this the life of Christ was with them and increased in them through these significant meetings where they remembered the Last Supper and strengthened the presence of the risen life of Christ within them. So Luke at the end of his Good News tells this delightful story of two broken-hearted travelers meeting with a new person, discussing their situation, hearing of the meaning of God’s plan from the Bible and sharing a meal: today’s gospel reading.
See Jeffs Jottings – It’s a vacuum