Tuesday, May 12, 2009

an interpreting church

Acts 1:15-22
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus-- 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 "For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'Let another take his position of overseer.' 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.

The first disciples interpreted their role in God’s drama of salvation as they waited for the Holy Spirit. Of course, there was a lot that they knew – they knew something world-shattering had transpired in the person of Jesus and Nazareth. They knew that Jesus had chosen 12 disciples for a reason. They knew that Jesus wanted them to begin witnessing to his resurrection in a particular place – Jerusalem. They knew that in Jesus God was simultaneously renewing and fulfilling the covenant He had made with Israel. And yet, there was a lot they didn’t know – one of them had betrayed Jesus. “The twelve” were down to 11.

And so they had to interpret Judas’ heinous act. They had to interpret how God could save the world when one of characters had seemingly ruined the plot. And the disciple’s act of interpretation required two things. They prayed (v.14) and they searched the scriptures. Through prayer and studying the scriptures, the disciples interpreted Judas’ role in Jesus’ death. “The scripture had to be fulfilled.” Jesus had to die.

And their interpretation led them to see that Judas had to be replaced. It wasn’t okay to have eleven apostles. After all, Israel had twelve tribes. And in praying and searching the scriptures, the first apostles saw themselves as God’s new Israel – as the people through whom God intended to call the world to repentance. And it wasn’t okay for them to have eleven. For the first apostles saw themselves as the new Israel. Israel had twelve tribes. If the world was to understand the church's new role, they too had to have twelve.

And Matthias was chosen to take Judas’ place.

Jesus didn’t tell them to choose Matthias. Jesus didn’t tell them to choose anyone. But through prayer and searching the scriptures, the first apostle’s interpreted their need for Judas to be replaced.

The task of interpretation still belongs to the church. Through prayer and scripture, our task as God’s people is to interpret God’s Word in our own day and time. The Christian should walk about with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. For God’s story of salvation still moves forward. Are we paying attention? Have we interpreted our role?

1 comment:

KAM said...

Jacob had twelve sons, but did Israel have twelve tribes?

In Deuteronomy 33, Moses blesses the tribes of Israel: Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Dan, Naphtali and Asher.

That's only eleven.

"Joseph isn't a tribe," you'll say, "but rather his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, are both counted as individual tribes -- and that makes twelve."

"Touché," I respond. "But what about Simeon, the second son of Jacob and Leah? Although not mentioned in that text, Simeon is certainly listed in the tribal censuses of Numbers. So that makes thirteen."

"Alas," you reply, "it appears you're correct."

"Alas," I echo, smiling.

"Too bad you aren't," you say. "As usual, you've failed to see the forest for the trees. Take a look at the tribal censuses again. What do you notice about Simeon? That's right, their numbers fell by more than half."

"The rape of Dinah," I say, shaking my head.

"Exactly. And that's not all. Take a look at Joshua 19. You'll find that Simeon is basically absorbed by Judah, bringing the number of tribes back down to twelve."

"Well played, Rev. Newton. Well played."