Reflection on Acts 36-43
by Kathryn Matthews
This is no peaceful meditation on the goodness of God, this book of "The Acts of the Apostles." For example, by the end of this ninth chapter, we have just come off the adventures of Saul, the persecutor of early Christians, who went from "ravaging" and "breathing threats and murder" against them to getting, so to speak, knocked off his high horse — flattened, that is, and blinded by the light, before he rose up again and made his way, with the help of others, to Damascus, where his sight was restored and more importantly, his vision clarified.
Of course, it wasn't easy convincing the disciples who had lived in fear of Saul that he was now on their side, and the pace of the story is relentless as he runs from the Jewish authorities in Damascus (lowered in a basket through the city walls! — a first-century version of the car chase scene) and escapes to Jerusalem. There he encounters more skepticism from the believers and arguments with the Hellenists — the Greek-speaking Jews — who want to kill him.
But then the camera backs up, giving us a wider view of "the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria" growing in peace and in faith, and in numbers as well. A curious pairing of words follows: "fear" and "comfort." As it grew, the church somehow lived, mysteriously, in both "the fear of the Lord" and "the comfort of the Holy Spirit" (9:31b). (Perhaps this is a way of life for people of faith.)
From Paul to Peter
We leave the tumultuous Saul/Paul and find ourselves suddenly back with Peter, who had actually walked with Jesus and was a witness (after Mary Magdalene) to the Resurrection. Filled now with the Holy Spirit, Peter can't help sharing the Good News of his life transformed and the power of that same Spirit of God to transform the lives of others. He visits "the saints" living in various places, and continues the work of his teacher, Jesus, who had healed the sick and raised the dead.
Luke writes this story of the early church as exactly that: a continuation of the story of Jesus, risen, present and at work through the power of the Spirit in the life of the early church. In the busy urban center of Lydda, a paralyzed man is healed by Peter, or rather by the Holy Spirit, or, as Peter says, by Jesus Christ (9:34b), and the whole region ("all the residents" — yes, it says "all") come to believe in Jesus.
The rest of the story
But there's more to the story than that, for scholars make a persuasive case that the man Peter heals is a Gentile. His name may sound familiar, because many of us remember the great Roman hero Aeneas from reading Virgil's epic poem, The Aeneid, in school.
According to Charles Cousar, Aeneas would have also been a familiar name to Luke's audience, for the poem was a familiar, well-loved work in that day, and perhaps Luke is using this name to hint at what is to come in the dramatic events in chapter ten, and the mission to the Gentiles that will unfold in the book of Acts (Texts for Preaching Year C).
The stage is set, then, for new life, and a new, surprisingly expanded vision of ministry in Jesus' name.
Raising a "gazelle"
We imagine the earliest Christians listening, and like us, being amazed, and eager to hear what happens next in this exciting and inspiring account of the Adventures of the Apostles. Here we are, after all, in the Easter season, with resurrection on our minds.
However, like those earliest Christians, including Luke himself, we more likely hear in this story of the raising of the saintly widow Dorcas/Tabitha (many scholars note the elegant meaning of her name in both Aramaic and Greek: "Gazelle") the echoes of other stories from both the Old and New Testaments: most dramatically, the raising of the daughter of Jairus.
Luke had described that miracle in his Gospel (8:40-56) but must have also known about it from the Gospel of Mark, whose account so closely parallels this one that even the name of the dead person differs by only one letter: Talitha/Tabitha. That's probably not an accident, because the story happens the same way, the command is the same, and the results are the same, as well.
Read the scriptures and this entire reflection here.