Bible: Eyes open to wonders

December 3 — Acts 3:11-21; December 10 — Acts 13:1-12

Nov 20, 2017 by

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Acts 3:11-21 picks up after a miraculous occurrence: Peter and John pass a beggar, lame from birth, as they go to the temple to pray. He asks them for money, and “Peter looked intently at him, as did John” (3:4). Then Peter tells him, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to get up, and walk. Not only does he walk, he leaps, praising God that he has been healed. It’s a joyous scene.

Meghan Florian

Florian

In verse 11, he clings to Peter and John as a shocked crowd gathers. Peter addresses them: Why do you wonder, why do you stare? This man has been healed in the name of Jesus, the “Holy and Righteous One” (3:14), the “Author of Life” (3:15), whom God raised from the dead after the people sentenced him to death.

God fulfilled God’s promises despite the ignorance of citizens and rulers alike.

In their actions and words the apostles mimic Jesus’ work, thus witnessing to the truths they proclaim about him, calling the people to repent and turn to God. Jesus has ascended to heaven, but he will return, and Peter invites the people to be ready this time.

Where has our ignorance caused us to miss God’s presence? How often do we look in shocked awe at miracles we had previously failed to see?

Peter’s words continue to resonate as a call to look intently at God’s people, to believe that God, in Jesus, invites us to build a better world, to participate in God’s healing work, testifying to the resurrection, the “universal restoration” (3:21) God promises.

Throughout Acts, the work of the early church continues to unfold. In 13:1-12, prophets and teachers gather — Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul, who we’ll come to know better as Paul. Saul/Paul’s identity is shifting. His new beliefs lead to new work, in new places, even a new name.

As they gather to worship and fast, the Holy Spirit speaks to them, naming Saul and Barnabas, setting them apart for specific tasks. God has different plans for them. And so, after continuing their fasting together, the group prays and lays hands on Saul and Barnabas, sending them on God’s behalf.

We practice something like this in my own church. When people move on to another place, to other work, we say their going is our sending, that they carry us with them. They carry the fragile love and peace of Christ we’ve sought to embody.

Saul and Barnabas respond to God’s call. They begin teaching in synagogues, going from place to place by land and by sea. A man called Sergius Paulus, a proconsul, asks to hear the word of God. But he is accompanied by a false prophet, Elymas, who attempts to thwart Saul and Barnabas. Saul asks Elymas, “Will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (13:10).

What unfolds is fantastical, God shrouding Elymas in mist and darkness. Whether read metaphorically, literarily or otherwise, the image isn’t subtle. Elymas is groping about in the darkness, in need of someone to lead him. God’s sign here, through Saul and Barnabas, is not for the sake of believers but for unbelievers. The proconsul sees what has happened and believes.

The text invites us to ask how our own actions can illuminate God’s truth, inviting people into the community of faith. Like Saul, Barnabas and the rest, we are called in different ways, in different places, to shine light through darkness, to show others the way, along paths both crooked and straight.

Meghan Florian, of Durham, N.C., teaches writing at William Peace University. She is a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.


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