Commentary on Acts 2:14, 22-32
We begin today reading from the Acts of the Apostles. From now until the end of the Seventh Week of Easter the weekday First Readings will be from the Acts. The Sunday First Readings will also be from Acts.
Today’s reading follows immediately on the account of the Pentecost experience. The immediate result of that experience is for Peter, filled with the Spirit and as leader of the new community, to begin proclaiming the message about Jesus Christ as Saviour to the people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost.
It is the first of six such “kerygmas” (from the Greek kerux, khrux, meaning a ‘herald’) or proclamations in Acts about Jesus as Risen Lord and Messiah-King. Five of them are attributed to Peter and the final one to Paul (to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia, 13:16-41). Peter’s address follows a pattern that became common in the early Church: 1, an explanation of what was happening; 2, the proclamation of the death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus the Christ; 3, an exhortation to repentance, a change of life and baptism.
Peter stood before the crowd, flanked by the Eleven (including Matthias, newly chosen to replace Judas as a witness who had been with Jesus “from the beginning”). Peter spoke, then, not just in his own name but in the name of the whole apostolic “college”. Right from the beginning, his special position in the group is recognised.
And he has “good news” (= gospel, Old English ‘god-spell’; Greek, euanggelion, ‘euaggelion) to communicate to them. His words reflect the content of the earliest apostolic preaching:
1, He gives witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his being raised to glory.
2, There are some general details of Christ’s ministry and how it was proclaimed in advance by John the Baptist, inaugurated by teaching and miracles, completed by appearances of the Risen Christ and the giving of the Spirit to his followers.
3, The story of Jesus is put in the wider context of the Old Testament prophecies while at the same time looking forward to a Messianic age. All – Jews and Gentiles alike – are called to a radical change of life in order to be ready for the Christ’s glorious turn – believed to be in the near future.
Peter, then, reminds them that Jesus had appeared among the people – as many of his hearers were well aware – and performed signs and wonders as the credentials of his real identity. But, in the inscrutable plan of God, he was “handed over” (again we have that term which goes like a refrain through the New Testament).
Sad to say, those who handed Jesus over were from among his own people, perhaps including some of those listening to Peter, and they had even delivered him into the hands of the Romans (“men outside the Law”) for crucifixion. There must surely have been some uneasy feelings among the crowd when he said that. (It would be like Irish Catholics handing over a fellow-Catholic to be executed by English rulers.)
But Jesus was liberated from the pain of death; death had no power over him. Peter sees in words spoken by King David their fulfilment in Jesus, his descendant. The words spoken of David, “You will not abandon my soul to Hades [Sheol, the place of the dead]” are seen as applying more appropriately to Jesus because David died, was buried and the place of his tomb was known to his hearers, while Jesus “is the one who was not abandoned to Hades, and whose body did not experience corruption”. Instead, “God raised this man Jesus to life and all of us are witnesses to that.”
We, too, are called to be witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and his living presence among us by the way we live both individually and as a community.