April 19, 2015
Third Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Most of us are pretty stubborn. Once we form an opinion about someone or something, we usually stick to it. It can be hard to shake us loose from our views. In fact, it is usually more convenient to hang onto a wrong view than to do the hard work of learning more, understanding more, and changing our mind. Inertia is a powerful force. In this Sunday’s first reading, St. Peter teams up with the Holy Spirit to shake up some people who have stubbornly stuck to a wrong understanding of Jesus.
Healing, then Preaching
Our reading comes in the middle of a story. In the preceding verses, the apostles come upon a man who had been crippled from birth at the Temple and heal him by the power of the Holy Spirit. This man had been there, laying by one of the Temple’s gates for years, asking for alms. When Peter and John walk up, he asks them for some spare change. Rather than dropping off some coins or avoiding eye contact, they confess they don’t have any money. And Peter deliberately makes eye contact with the man and says “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Act 3:6 RSV). Talk about getting more than what you asked for! The man jumps up and shows off his new-found health by strutting around the Temple area.
A Giant Temple
Now the Temple complex was a huge, shopping-mall-size expanse, spanning about 28 football fields. People begin to see this formerly lame man walking about and take notice. In fact, they are astonished. Not one to lose out on a good P.R. opportunity, Peter starts to preach to those milling about the Temple. Our reading is an excerpt from his speech.
Recalling the Patriarchs
Peter starts off by recalling the history of God’s saving work—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the patriarchs of God’s people. Now Peter adds the twist: the God of the patriarchs glorified Jesus, the man recently rejected by the authorities at Jerusalem. Peter accuses the crowd, many of whom had been present at Jesus’ trial during Passover, and says that they “killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15). The incomprehensible irony stares them in the face. Jesus’ crucifixion was not just another Roman execution, but the killing of God.
Witnesses to Resurrection Power
Despite the terror of the accusation, God has raised Jesus from the dead. Peter, John and all the apostles are witnesses to the resurrection. They have seen him risen from the dead and now put their lives on the line for the truth of his rising. Peter explains that the lame man whom he just healed was made well through resurrection faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16, omitted from the reading). The unaccountable healing can be accounted for: Jesus healed the man through the apostles.
Converting the Stubborn
Peter is not trying to drive his audience to despair, but to change their minds and bring them to conversion. He excuses their fault, saying that they acted out of ignorance, similar to the way Jesus downplays Pilate’s sin (John 19:11) or the sin of the soldiers who crucify him (Luke 23:34). Peter is trying to win over his hearers, to invite them to repent.
Embracing the Message and Repenting from Sin
After citing the God of the patriarchs and the life of Jesus, Peter recalls the Old Testament prophets, who told the story of Jesus in advance. Peter is showing them that turning to Jesus is not a turning away from the tradition of Israel, but an embracing of it. It is to embrace the plan of the God of the patriarchs and the story of his life foretold by the nation’s prophets. The take-home message is straightforward: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Act 3:19 RSV).
Peter’s kind of speech may not be the only way to go about trying to change people’s minds, but it is effective enough to draw the ire of the Temple authorities (Acts 4:1). A little boldness, some key techniques—like putting his audience on trial, referencing their authorities, excusing, and inviting—bring many of his hearers past that point of stubbornness to a place where they can change their minds, turn their hearts toward God, and come to faith in the Savior. Most of our stubborn hearts could use such an apostolic shake-up to put us back on track. Fortunately, Peter’s invitation has not closed. We too can join those ancient hearers and come back from death to receive the Author of Life.