The primary theme of these texts is, implicitly or explicitly, the resurrection of Jesus as the Risen Christ. Nothing in the texts or in our current situations should be permitted to detract from our clear proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus as the Risen Christ this coming weekend.
The psalmist thanks the Lord for keeping the psalmist alive, on the path of life, safe and secure. Within the context of our Christian worship on the Second Sunday of Easter, the psalmist “becomes” Jesus the Christ raised from the dead, rescued from the grave and from the power of death, and speaking to us. It is entirely proper that we as Christians identify with the psalmist and with Jesus the Christ raised from the dead as we hear these words.
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
In this magnificent second chapter of Acts in which the Lukan playwright took the Israelite festival of thanksgiving to the Lord God for the first fruits of the field and of Scripture and made Pentecost into a Christian festival of the first fruits of people brought together into the Church, we see in the speech to the “Men of Israel” composed for the Peter character in the drama ample evidence of the exegetical technique of this inspired writer. The technique used here involved an almost total disregard for the context and meaning of Psalm 16 in its earlier and continuing Israelite-Jewish setting and a virtually absolute identification of the Lord God of the Israelites with Jesus, now the Lord for Christians. The Israelite psalmist had claimed that the presence of the Lord God had kept the psalmist from death and the grave, preserving the psalmist from destruction and decay. What the Israelite psalmist had said about the psalmist’s self the Lukan writer appropriated as the foresight of David, described now as a prophet, regarding Jesus, who is now identified as the Lord’s Holy One. This type of exegesis is clearly a matter of taking a biblical text and making it say whatever you want it to say with no respect for its earlier meaning as Scripture.
Unfortunately, the Lukan playwright caused the Lukan Peter to indict the “Men of Israel” for the death of Jesus with the words “you, by crucifying him, killed him by using the hands of non-Jewish men!” It is entirely to be expected, therefore, that devout Christians who have been unaware of the process of the development of the Newer Testament accounts and not sensitized to the kind of damage that this type of defamatory anti-Jewish polemic in the Newer Testament has caused to Jewish people for more than nineteen centuries will continue to state as a matter of historical fact that “the Jews killed Jesus.” The essential parts of this text are the major portions of verses 22-24 and 32, as follows: “Hear these words. Jesus, a man given approval from God and recommended to you by God with mighty acts and signs that God performed among you through him, in accordance with the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, was delivered up to death by those who are not guided by the Torah. God then raised him up, having freed him from the pangs of death, because death was not strong enough to hold him in its power. God has raised Jesus from the dead; all of us are witnesses of this.” The other portions of this text, with their vicious words such as “You killed him, having subjected him to crucifixion!” (2:23b) with their arbitrary exegesis, unfortunately detract greatly from the essential confessional portions presented above. For the greatest effectiveness of these essential confessional portions, we should read only the excerpts listed above this coming Sunday, or choose to read instead only 2:32-33: “God has raised Jesus from the dead; all of us are witnesses of this. Therefore, having been elevated to the position of power at the right hand of God, and having received from God the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit of God, Jesus has bestowed on us this Holy Spirit of God, as you have seen and heard.” This 2:32-33 portion is appropriate and helpful as a message to be proclaimed during the Easter season. The viciously anti-Jewish segments in 2:23b are not. If we are going to use readings from Acts of Apostles as our First Lessons during the Easter season in Series A, we must be much more sensitive and selective than those who developed the lectionary that we are using have been.
This is one of the three texts (Luke 24:39-43; John 20:19-31; and John 21:1-14) that provide for us the most fully developed “proofs” of the resurrection of Jesus within our Newer Testament. It is not surprising that all three come from the latter stages of the development of the Gospel traditions. This John 20:19-31 account served its purpose well late in the first century. In it Thomas, who as the representative of “gnosticizing” Christianity in the Fourth Gospel does not believe Jesus would appear in a physical form after his death, is forced to confess that the physically resurrected Jesus is his Lord and God. We should be aware of the use of the name Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas in the Gnostic Library recovered at Nag Hammadi. We should note also the second-century tradition that lists Thomas as the disciple of Jesus who went to proclaim the gospel in India, where escape from the physical body, rather than a return to the physical body, is the goal. This text continues to serve in the Church as a helpful “proof” text that Jesus was certainly raised in a physical form, with a body similar to his body prior to his crucifixion in recognizable ways, but also different in that he was no longer limited by time and place restraints.
The most important way in which this text continues to serve in the Church, however, is that we are in the position, not of Thomas, but of those of whom the Johannine Jesus says, “Blessed are the ones who have not seen and have believed nevertheless.” We believe without seeing the Risen Christ, and for this we are blessed. We are in this respect in the same position as the members of the Johannine community were late in the first century. According to this text, to believe without seeing is more blessed than to believe because we have irrefutable proof. Here we have faith, as faith without proof, at its best. We joyfully believe. The one who is truly a believer does not need proof. If the believer has proof, there is no need to believe.