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Bible Study: Easter 2 (B) – 2012
April 15, 2012
Marxism! Communism! Socialism! This passage could be seen to propose community sharing of possessions and wealth, and, in fact, that is what it says. But Luke is not writing about a political system here – he’s writing about a specific faith community doing its best to practice koinonia as they understood it from the teachings of Jesus. This is a continuation of Luke’s emphasis on divine love and mercy, which calls for a response of love and mercy from the followers of Jesus. There is considerable evidence in addition to Acts that the practice of the early church was to share with those who had need. Justin Martyr, writing in the early- to mid-second century, describes the practice of Christian worship in his First Apology:
“What is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need” (Chapter 67).
Similarly, The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, from the late first or early second century, instructs, “Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own” (Chapter 4).
We have become far too accustomed to viewing what we have as the product of our own blood, sweat, and tears rather than wholly gifts from God, and to give away any of our own wealth is seen as diminishing our bottom line. This passage from Acts is, therefore, instructive. Generosity in giving did not derive from sheer willpower on the part of the giver. No, it sprang from the Apostles’ faithful proclamation of the resurrection, “and great grace was upon them all” (4:33). We cannot hope to achieve such selfless generosity on our own. It is a product of God’s grace and mercy toward us that we are drawn into generosity and love of our neighbor. Even if we achieved this kind of koinonia in all of our churches, this world would be a vastly different place!
- Verse 34 claims that “there was not a needy person among them.” How might such a utopian statement be made real here and now, or is that a hopeless dream in our day and age?
- What is it that inspires you to give generously of your wealth and possessions?
- Does this community sharing seem fair to you?
- Which of Jesus’ teachings led to these communal practices?
This is a Song of Ascents, one of the songs that would be sung as the people went up to Jerusalem for the required festivals. It is beautiful in its simplicity – unity is not only preferable to dissension, it is as precious as the oil used to anoint priests and as life-giving as the morning dew in an arid land. Imagine the Rite of Baptism with not just a splash of water, but a font-full poured over the head and running down one’s face and clothing. It is such delightful imagery of the abundance of God in the life God has ordained for those of us united in God’s church.
- What song might you sing as you go up to the temple/church?
- This psalm has imagery of anointing/baptism and refreshing, life-giving dew in reference to unity. What other images can you think of that describe how you experience harmony between God’s people?
1 John 1:1-2:2
In the early church as today, it is not always easy to identify true disciples of Jesus and those who are the pretenders, the false prophets. This epistle of John is very clear that those who walk in the light are the ones in true fellowship with Christ. They are also those who recognize their own sinfulness and call on the one true Advocate, “Jesus Christ the righteous” (v. 2:1). Notice the parallels between the beginning of this letter and the Prologue in John’s gospel – begin at the beginning, light and darkness, Jesus as the one true light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” John wrote in 1:5 of the gospel. This epistle continues that theme with those true to Jesus’ call being identified as the ones walking in the light, admitting their sins, and asking for forgiveness.
This passage is beautifully summarized in Hymn 490 in the text by Kathleen Thomerson:
In him there is no darkness at all,
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the City of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
- What does it mean to “walk in the light?”
- How are we to identify “false prophets‟ in a world of such Christian diversity?
- Verse 2:1 says, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” Is that even possible?
Most people focus on Thomas in this passage. This is understandable. It is a fairly dramatic moment when the unbelieving one finally sees the risen Jesus and proclaims him “My Lord and my God!” There are, however, two other aspects of this text that are easily missed, yet remarkable.
The first is in verse 19, which makes clear that the disciples were hiding in fear on the evening of the resurrection having heard from Mary Magdalene that she had seen the risen Jesus. Jesus appeared to the disciples (minus Judas and the absent Thomas, presumably), yet even his words sending them out were apparently not enough to free them from fear, for there they are a week later in the same room, this time with Thomas present.
- What was it about this encounter that released them from whatever it was that was holding them back?
- What was it that freed them to leave that room and go out into the world proclaiming the Good News?
- Was it Thomas’ proclamation that this was, indeed, the risen Jesus that prompted the change in their behavior?
It is not the Thomas narrative that first strikes me about this passage from John’s gospel but Jesus’ words in verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Yikes! We can read these words as if Jesus is speaking only to these original disciples, but that is not generally the approach taken by people of faith – we believe that Jesus speaks to us in our own time and place. Are we to simply ignore the responsibility Jesus places on his followers in saying that we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to forgive or condemn to non-forgiveness? If we ignore this one, then we would have to ignore the rest, and I find this a particularly sobering directive from Jesus because I don’t want that kind of responsibility on my conscience!
- Does Jesus really intend for us to have the power to forgive and condemn?
- What are the implications of this, especially in light of other of Jesus’ sayings that we are not to judge (Luke 6:37, for instance)?
- Why might John have included this at the moment Jesus conveys the Spirit on them?
- Finally, the Collect for the day says, “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” Reflecting on each of these readings, what elements of your faith are being called into practice in these stories of community sharing, abundance and joy, light and darkness, faith without sight, and forgiveness or non-forgiveness of sins? How are you called to respond during this Eastertide?
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