Acts of the Apostles, Part Three: Peter and John in Jerusalem

The description of the ideal community in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42-47) forms a bridge to the next section of Acts which narrates the ministry of Peter and John. In Acts 2:42 we read, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” The four topics mentioned match with the four major sections of the Catechism. The “teaching of the apostles” compares to the Creed section of the Catechism; “communal life” to the Our Life in Christ section, the “breaking of bread” to the Liturgy and Sacraments section, and “prayers” to the final section of the Catechism on Prayer. From the beginning the Church has presented its faith as an organic unity. The truths of the faith like a living organism cannot be divided up and offered like items on a cafeteria menu.

Luke introduces a new narrative with the words; “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock hour of prayer” (Acts 3:1). Although there are several people named ‘John’ in Acts it seems obvious that Luke has in mind the Apostle John mentioned already in 1:13. One can see that initially the disciples continued to live as observant Jews.

Peter’s healing of a man crippled from birth in the Temple astounds the crowds and becomes the means for another speech by Peter in Solomon’s Portico. A man crippled from birth would not have been allowed to fully participate in Temple worship (Leviticus 21:17-20; 2 Samuel 5:8). The sight of the man born crippled now healed and clinging to Peter and John causes ‘amazement and astonishment’ (Acts 13:10) in the Temple area. Peter’s sermon draws the connection between the faith of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the sufferings of his ‘servant’ Jesus. Peter’s use of the use of the title ‘servant’ in Acts 3:13,26 echoes the motif of the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah 52:13-14 in Greek. “See, my servant shall understand, and he shall be exalted and glorified exceedingly. Just as many shall be astonished at you—“(NETS) These passages of Isaiah were used by the early Christians to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter then connects this to an understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of Moses’ promise that God would raise up a “prophet” like Moses in these last days (Acts 3:22, Deuteronomy 18:15) who would fulfill the promise to Abraham that through him “all the nations of the Earth would be blessed” (Acts 3:25) because God raised up his servant and sent him “to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways” (Acts 3:26).

Although Peter says that his fellow Jews “denied the Holy and Righteous One” and put to death the “author of life,” in no way does Peter hold his fellow Jews responsible either individually or collectively for the death of Jesus. Both the Second Vatican Council (NA 4) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 597) affirm that we cannot hold the Jewish people responsible for Jesus’ passion and death. In fact all sinners have denied our Lord and are in that sense the authors of Christ’s passion (CCC 589). Peter affirms in his speech that the people “acted out of ignorance” (Acts 3:17) and that God allowed the Messiah to suffer to bring to fulfillment what he had “announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets” (Acts 3:18). Later in Paul’s speech before the Athenians, it is affirmed that, “God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now demands that all people everywhere repent.” (Acts 17:30). Our common solidarity as sinners allows us to hear Peter’s words, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away . . .” (Acts 3:19).

While Peter and John were teaching, the priests and Sadducees had the two apostles arrested (Acts 4:1) In spite of the arrest and resistance from the Temple authorities, Luke tells us that Peter’s sermon was very successful and the number of believers grew to about five thousand men (Acts 4:4). The next day Peter and John are brought before the Temple leadership and questioned about the miracle and “the name” through which the healing was performed. They affirm that it was in the name of Jesus that the healing took place. They reply, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). While the Church affirms that those who through “no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church” may still have the hope of salvation (AG 7; CCC 846-848), these graces are still provided by Christ’s one sacrifice and do not lessen the Church’s missionary imperative (CCC 848). The gift of the Spirit received at Pentecost gave Peter and John a “boldness” that amazed the Temple leaders since the Apostles were uneducated and ordinary men (Acts 4:13).

 Scott McKellar is director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.

 

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Saturday
March 25, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph