Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Lame Walk — An Image of the Church

Today’s First Reading continues the story begun last week about the healing and the interpretation of this event as a sign of the Resurrection.

Apr 24, 2021

4th Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12;
1 John 3:1-2;
Gospel: John 10:11-18

Today’s First Reading continues the story  begun last week about the healing and the  interpretation of this event as a sign of the Resurrection. By now it should be apparent that  the speeches in the Acts of the Apostles are  not “tapes” of what Peter and Paul said but,  rather, impositions by Luke. In this he was  using a familiar convention common among  first-century historians writing in Greek. The  brief cameo speech was one of the tools of the  ancient historians’ trade; even when they had  verbatim reports of what some important figure had said on a given occasion, such historians were expected to use the wisdom of hindsight and compose a more illuminating speech  as a way of explaining the deeper significance  of the event. Scholars are convinced that Luke  is doing exactly that, using the historian's device of the cameo speech and drawing upon  the preaching traditions of the early Church  to portray in this concise way the meaning of  what was happening.

Along with this conventional historical tool  of speech writing, Luke employs another device, one that, since the discovery of the Dead  Sea Scrolls, we have learned to call the pesher. The Aramaic word for “interpretation,”  pesher is the name used by the members of  the Qumran community for an interpretation  which claimed that an ancient text was being  fulfilled in the current or recent events of their  own community. For example, they would  read an Old Testament text about a future new  temple and write a pesher declaring that the  Qumran community was the fulfillment of  that prophecy. Last week, we saw Luke making a number of such pesher applications in  the speech of Acts 3, identifying Jesus as Deuteronomy’s Moses-like prophet and Isaiah’s  Suffering Servant, and seeing the Church’s  mission to the Gentiles as the fulfilment of the  covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12.

In the speech in this Sunday’s reading, we  hear a pesher application on Ps 118:22, a  psalm verse that seems to have been a favourite of the early Church: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  In the context of the psalm, that verse refers  to the community of Israel which the imperial forces of the surrounding nations thought  unworthy of their great plans; yet, the Lord  has rescued them (e.g., in the return from the  Babylonian captivity). But the early Church,  searching the Scriptures in the light of their  experience of God’s revelation in Jesus, found  the language of this psalm applicable in a  fresh and powerful way to Jesus. The single  verse — “the stone the builders rejected has  become the cornerstone” — caught wonderfully, in a few words, the meaning of the death  and resurrection of Jesus.

The verse from Psalm 118 contains a further richness: one could not speak of a stone  and building without thinking of the Jerusalem Temple, the greatest stone building in  their experience. When these same officials  in the Temple precincts questioned Jesus by  what authority he was doing “these things”  (i.e., clearing the Temple and teaching in it),  he confronted them with the parable of the  wicked tenants and ended with an application  of this same quote (“The stone the builders  rejected …” Luke 20:17). And now Jesus’  disciples, asked by those officials by what  authority they heal and teach in the Temple  area, answer in the same way. This is no coincidence.

We know that the early Christian community thought of themselves as the spiritual endtime temple (see 1 Pet 2:3-4, for example),  with Jesus imaged sometimes as the foundation stone, sometimes as the capstone. Here,  the image is probably capstone. In Luke’s theology, just as the Church is not so much New  Israel as the authentic development of Israel,  so Jesus, for Luke, does not so much threaten  or supplant the Temple as provide its completion.

There is more. Note that the speech plays on  the word “saved.” In Luke 9 it refers to physical healing and, in Luke 12, to the fullness of  salvation. That double meaning highlights the  theme that the cure of the lame man is a sign  of the restoration to full covenant unity with  God, offered through the ministry of the new  temple that is the Christian community.

So, what seems at first to be a quick speech  tied to a specific occasion turns out, like all  of the speeches in Acts, to be a rather rich  meditation on the significance of Easter for  the life of the Church. Spirit-led authority in  the Church turns rejection into an occasion of  healing and salvation. — By Prof Emeritus  Fr Dennis Hamm, SJ

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