The Seventh Sunday of Easter May 28, 2006
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26
“THERE WAS A GROUP OF ALMOST ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY PERSONS IN ONE ROOM” (Acts 1:15)
This is the in-between Sunday, that is, in between Ascension and Pentecost Sundays, a ten-day waiting period when the disciples were instructed to go back to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. This was not ‘dead time’ by any means because they had an important task to accomplish.
The opening verse in this week’s text tells us that there were about 120 persons gathered together for these days of waiting. Who were they? The answer to this question is found in Acts 1:13-14. After the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem and stayed in “the upper room.” The text lists the remaining eleven apostles, “together with some women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his siblings.” It is safe to assume the “some women” included all the women whom Jesus first appeared to on Easter Sunday morning in Luke’s gospel, “Mary Magdalene, Joanna (the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza) and Mary the mother of James and others” (Luke 24:10). These were the same women who accompanied Jesus throughout his public ministry and bankrolled his activities (Acts 8:2-3). So there were three identifiable groups in the upper room. The 11 remaining apostles, the women and Jesus’ blood family.
“FOR IT IS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF PSALMS: MAY ANOTHER TAKE HIS OFFICE” (Acts 1:20a, 20c)
The one important task that those gathered in the upper room must do before Pentecost is to replace the twelfth apostle Judas, who betrayed Jesus and killed himself. It’s important to note that only the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts deemed it necessary to replace Judas. None of the other gospel writers bother to replace Judas.
One wonders why the Lectionary left out the middle verses (i.e., Acts 1:18-19, 20c)? Verses 18 and 19 report how Judas “bought a parcel of land” with the money he made betraying Jesus, killing himself by throwing himself on the land he bought. This land became known by the people of Jerusalem as the “Field of Blood.” The middle of verse 20 is also left out in which Psalm 69:26 is quoted “Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.”
The Gospel of Matthew records a different version of Judas killing himself and land being bought with the money earned for betraying Jesus (Matt 27:3-10). In Matthew’s version Judas returns the 30 pieces of silver he received for betraying Jesus to the chief priest and then he goes out and hangs himself. Then the chief priest uses the 30 pieces of silver to buy “the potters field as a burial place for foreigners,” a field that became known as “the Field of Blood.”
“BEGINNING WITH THE BAPTISM OF JOHN…” (Acts 1:20)
Peter sets out the qualifications for the man whom they select to replace Judas. He must have “accompanied us the whole time” they were with Jesus, from the time of Jesus’ baptism by John to the day of his Ascension. There is just a slight discrepancy in all the accounts, none of the disciples are present at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus called his disciples to follow him after his baptism. I have no explanation for this.
“THEN THEY PRAYED… AND THE LOT FELL UPON MATTHIAS” (Acts 1:24-26)
Two candidates fit the requirements, Judas called Barsabbas and Matthias. The choice could have gone either way. The community as a whole prayed the right man be selected. They drew lots and Matthias won.
THE FIRST CONCLAVE
It is no great stretch to say the selection of Matthias to replace Judas could be considered the First Conclave. The Catholic Church documents 265 popes in its history going all the way back to St. Peter. Surely, the replacement of one of the original 12 apostles is at least equal to a selection of a pope.
The surprising thing about the Conclave was who took part in the selection process. There were the eleven remaining apostles, the women and Jesus’ blood family, about 120 people total. These days a much smaller circle of people get to select our popes. Only the cardinals, who are celibate males who are ordained priests get to select the pope and it’s too bad. The Church could use a much more inclusive and broader group of people to make such an important decision that should include women and married people. Clearly the early churches understood the need to have an inclusive and broad group of believers to best respond to the Holy Spirit in making the best decision in choosing a leader.
WHY 12 APOSTLES?
According to the New Testament, the 12 apostles never functioned alone as a governing body for the Church. And they never exercised exclusive leadership roles within the faith community. Whenever leadership and governing took place, the 12 apostles always worked in union with a larger body of followers. Women were never excluded from governing bodies and leadership roles – except for a few isolated verses in Paul’s letters that Paul probably did not write.
The reason why Jesus selected 12 men to be his apostles was their symbolic value of representing the 12 tribes of Israel for the new covenant Jesus was establishing. Whenever the 12 were asked to do anything as a unit, they were representing the New Covenant of Jesus!
“LIFTING UP HIS EYES TO HEAVEN, JESUS PRAYED…” (John 17:1)
Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is the climax of the last discourse of Jesus that began with chapter 14. At the end of chapter 17 Jesus and his disciples head out across the Kidron Valley to the garden where he will be arrested. Since the 16th century this chapter has been called the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus. In it Jesus prays as an intercessor for his disciples to God the Father.
If we were staging Chapter 17 as a play Jesus would be with his disciples in the upper room. The scene would be set up after dinner and the foot washing. Jesus’ disciples would be around him and he would step out from them towards the audience, the lights would be dimmed and a single light would focus on Jesus as his disciples would intently look to him. Jesus would raise his eyes to heaven and start praying out loud.
This week’s text covers verses 11-19. Jesus is praying to his Father in heaven to keep his disciples in his name. Jesus says as long as he was with his disciples they were all protected, except for Judas, “the son of destruction, in order that Scripture might be fulfilled,” who betrayed him. Now that Jesus was soon to die and leave his disciples he was asking his Father to protect them.
WHAT’S IN A “NAME?”
The saying goes, “It’s not what you know that matters but who you know that counts.” To be in someone’s name is to be under that person’s protection, in union and common cause with them, a disciple of theirs, a member of their family and a part of their world.
WHAT’S IN “THE WORD?”
Jesus says he gave his disciples his Father’s “word.” God’s word is an extension of God’s name. To be claimed by God’s name is to live by God’s word. To be in God’s word is to live in God’s ways, the ways Jesus taught and lived throughout the gospel narrative and was soon to demonstrate through his passion, death and resurrection. Jesus does this so well that he literally is God’s word in a human being.
WHAT’S IN A “WORLD?”
Speaking in this “world” Jesus says the world hates him and hates his disciples because they do not belong to this world. Jesus does not ask his Father to take his disciples out of this world, “but that You (the Father) keep them from the evil one. ”
In the narrative of all four gospels there is a cosmic struggle going on between two opposing worlds for the same dominion, God’s created universe. It is a black and white, good vs. evil struggle to the death. Only one side will win in the end and that side is God’s side, that world is God’s world and it is Jesus the first citizen of God’s world who has won the battle. All who are in God’s name and live God’s word are part of God’s world too. However, for the moment and the foreseeable future — in this ‘in-between time’, after Jesus’ first coming and before his second coming — this world we live in is under the control of the evil one. This present world hates those who are of God’s world.
When Jesus prays to the Father to keep his disciples from the evil one, Jesus is showing his concern for the power that evil and the evil one have over this world. It is the same petition we pray every time we pray the Our Father, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen”
WHAT BE THIS “COMPLETE JOY?”
Jesus prays that his disciples share in his “complete joy.” Complete joy is not a shallow, feel-good, passing joy of the emotions. It is a deeper, more ultimate joy that comes with a life well lived, over the long haul, after being faithful to God’s name, God’s word and God’s world.
WHAT MEANS “CONSECRATE IN TRUTH?”
Jesus prays his disciples will be consecrated to the truth. This will happen by Jesus letting himself be consecrated first. The consecration that Jesus is speaking of is his own passion and death. Jesus prays that his disciples will follow his example, be faithful to his ways, even unto death.
Heavy stuff, heavy moment in the narrative because in the next scene Jesus is arrested which begins his passion, suffering and death.