we began looking through the Acts of the Apostles. This is the book that is used for the first reading at Mass during the Easter season.
The Book of Acts is full of drama.
There is persecution and controversy, but there is also much hope.
Last week we read from chapter 2 to chapter 4. In those two chapters, which happen after Pentecost, St. Peter preaches several times (2:22-33; 3:11-26; 4:13-21), he and St. John heal a man who was crippled (3:1-10), and they are questioned and rebuked by the chief priests (4:1-12). We also learn that the number of disciples grew to “five thousand men” (4:4).
In the midst of all that drama, we see how there is always a tension between disorder and harmony, and we see how there is always a message of hope and how the Spirit is moving throughout.
The Book of Acts was written by St. Luke – the same St. Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke. It was written as a second part to his Gospel. In the Gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus Christ. In Acts, he tells the story of the Body of Christ, his Church. It was written sometime between the years 65 and 70 AD. Tradition holds that Luke was a physician and a traveling companion of St. Paul, so he is a first-hand witness to many of the events he recounts (marvelously expressed in the 2018 film, Paul, the Apostle of Christ
). Both Luke's Gospel and the Book of Acts are written as letters to another disciple named Theophilus
(see Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1). Luke is very clinical in his telling of the story. He examines all the evidence carefully, always giving precise dates or placing events in the right context and giving as many details as possible.
The Gospel of the Holy Spirit
The Book of Acts has also been described as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit”, for in a way, it is the story of the Holy Spirit moving in the Church. It begins with the birth of the Church and follows the activities of St. Peter and then follows the travels of St. Paul.
Last week and this week, we are still reading about the early beginnings of the Church.
Get your Bible and open it to the Acts of the Apostles and read along.
We last saw Peter and John in the presence of the chief priests. Luke is careful to note that among them were Annas and Caiaphas. You remember who they were. Several times Peter will tell them that they crucified Jesus Christ. This week we will continue reading chapter four. Peter and John have just been rebuked by the chief priests, and they return to the community of disciples. There everyone rejoices, prays with them, and is filled with the Holy Spirit (Monday: Acts 4:23-31). We then learn a bit more about what life in that early Christian community was like. Everyone had everything in common, and we learn that a man named Barnabas sold his property and gave the money to the Apostles (Tuesday: Acts 4:32-37). Once again, Peter and John are arrested, this time with the rest of the Apostles. But while in jail, overnight, an angel of the Lord sets them free. They are found by the guards, once again, the next day, preaching at the Temple (Wednesday: Acts 5:17-26). Again, they are arrested and again, Peter responds that “we must obey God, not men”
. This makes the chief priests even angrier (Thursday Acts 5:27-33).
The week ends with a well-known passage in which a respected Jewish teacher, Gamaliel, says to the chief priests that they should "leave these men alone. If what they do and teach is merely of their own, it will soon be overthrown. But, if it is of God, you will not be able to stop them lest you find yourselves fighting even against God" (5:38-39).
His advice is taken. Still, the apostles are flogged and warned to never again speak or teach in the name of Jesus. The reading ends with the Apostles rejoicing that God had found them worthy to suffer dishonour for his name (Friday Acts 5:34-42).
On Saturday we take a little break, since it is the Feast of St. Mark (another great one whom we meet in the Book of Acts (see Acts 12:12 and 13:5).
On Sunday, which is the 3rd Sunday of Easter, we hear Acts 2:14, 22-23, which is back to Peter’s sermon after Pentecost.
You will have noticed that there is a lot of repetition: The Apostles do something, and they are arrested. They are rebuked and released, and they continue doing what they’ve been told not to do. They are arrested, rebuked, and released again; and the cycle continues. You may imagine that the Apostles are taunting the authorities and not concerned at all, but if I put myself in their shoes – even under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit – I would have been scared every time I was arrested. I would have been nervous. I am sure that Peter was never too sure what to say, but he quickly learns to let the Spirit guide him, and his words are inspired.
This is a story of learning to trust in the midst of constant attack and persecution.
On this second week of Easter, what is apparent to me is that there was joy in this early community. Even though they are arrested and rebuked, even though they may have moments of worry and fear, even though the Apostles are dishounoured and punished, even though there are moments of chaos and disorder – the disciples rejoiced! They always find joy. This is the joy that always comes with being in the presence of Jesus Christ (read Luke 1:41 to see when this happens for the first time).
This week, as you go through chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Acts, remember that despite the tension, despite that disorder, there is always harmony and hope. There is always joy.
This week, remember that the first thing Jesus gives the Apostles when he appears to them on the day of the Resurrection is his peace, shalom
. The Gospel of John then tells us that "they were filled with joy when they saw the Lord"
Like us today, they had uncertainty, but they were still able to rejoice in the Lord.
This Easter season, let’s make a point of rejoicing. Sometimes it’s not easy, but we can wake up every morning and make a decision to have joy.
And if you’re having a hard time, read the Book of Acts.
In that, you will find joy.
Come back next week
so we can continue looking for hope and joy in the Book of Acts.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org