NEXT SUNDAY’S FIRST READING: ACTS 4: 32-35
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER [B]
USCCB Link to all three readings
The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.
As I noted last week, the entire Easter Season of Sundays will draw the first readings from the New Testament and not the Old; this is quite a departure from the other 45 Sunday observances of the Eucharist throughout the year. The specific source for the first readings is the Acts of the Apostles, a volume intended originally as the second part of St. Luke’s Gospel. Luke himself, in Chapter 1 of Acts, describes what he hoped to accomplish in his previous work, the Gospel, taking his narrative to the eve of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles introduces the reader to a new era, when Jesus, from his glorified place at the Father’s right hand, will sustain his followers through the ever-present life of the Holy Spirit. The new story line begins with Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles in tongues of fire and the Christian preaching ministry begins in earnest. [Chapter 1 ties up several loose ends, including determining a replacement for Judas.]
Acts of the Apostles is the subject of lively debate among scholars today, much of it surrounding how or if Luke was an eyewitness to everything he reports. This stems from Luke’s use of the pronoun “we” when he describes the exploits of the preaching apostles, notably St. Paul, who is the heroic figure of the narrative after his conversion in chapters 8 and 9. St. Paul’s missionary career runs roughly between 40 and 60 A.D. Luke’s Gospel at the earliest appears after 80 A.D. and the Acts would be later than that. The Jerome Biblical Commentary includes the theory that by the time the Acts were written, Paul was a true hero of the Church, even though later thinkers—which would include all four evangelists—developed a richer theology of the Christ that Luke would have incorporated in the Acts.
Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Church in the Book of Acts would come to understand that the crucifixion was in God’s plan, and not a terrible derailment of divine providence, as the two Emmaus disciples seemed to think it was in Luke 24. The Church would come to see that its preaching of the risen Christ and the future apocalyptic judgment of that same Christ made it a vehicle for the forgiveness of sins of the entire human race, not only the Chosen People Israel. It is Acts which anoints Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, perhaps the biggest paradigm shift in the New Testament era.
While the Acts contain several inspiring conversions and acts of courage under public fire, it is also true that Luke wished to depict a Church that lived what it professed. There are two separate “vignettes” of an ideal church community. The first is Acts 2: 42-47; the second is next Sunday’s first reading. Most commentaries are quick to point out that Luke intended these depictions of a pure socialist church as models of how the members should live in a faith-filled, familial way, not as a reflection of actual household tranquility. Acts itself describes trouble in the family, notably the sad tale of Ananias and Saphira, which follows immediately after Sunday’s text.
In Sunday’s first reading, the primary message about community is its response to the preaching of the Resurrection “with great power” by the Apostles. Acts is very clear on this point, that no group, no family, no church can hope to survive without the fire of the Resurrection and the impulse of the Holy Spirit to inspire them to full time charity and unity. Luke has captured the full “theology of the Resurrection” in that the new life of Christ is a statement of all human destiny, and the community cited here is living in expectation that the Lord will come again in glory and judgment. This community cited here is future oriented, hoping that the Lord will find them in fraternity and self-sacrifice for the good of the mission of baptizing the world into eternal glory.
In recent times the Church has celebrated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Lectionary of Mass readings was established several decades before the Divine Mercy Sunday designation came into being thanks to Pope John Paul II. The sermon in your parish may reflect the Divine Mercy theme instead of one drawn from the Lectionary readings. The readings linked on today’s post are the universal assigned texts for the Easter season. It is a mystery to me why Pope John Paul II did not designate the Fourth Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, as that Sunday has been observed as “Good Shepherd Sunday” for centuries. If you are confused on Sunday, take heart that you are not alone. The USCCB website recommends that devotions around the observance of Divine Mercy Sunday take place outside of the Sunday Eucharist, as on Sunday afternoon.