Easter Thursday – First Reading

Commentary on Acts 3:11-26

Immediately after the dramatic cure of the beggar who was “lame from birth” in the Temple, Peter takes the opportunity to address the crowds which had gathered, to explain the meaning of what they have just witnessed.

The scene takes place at “Solomon’s Portico”. This was a porch along the inner side of the wall enclosing the outer court, with rows of 27-foot high stone columns and a roof of cedar. So it was a roofed structure – somewhat similar to a Greek stoa. There was a common, but mistaken, belief that it dated back to Solomon’s time.

The message that Peter now gives the amazed crowd gathering around is similar to other addresses in the early Church and contains: 1) an explanation of what is happening; 2) the Gospel of Jesus Christ – his death, resurrection and glorification; and 3) a call to repentance and change of life, symbolised by baptism.

First, Peter makes clear that the healing that has just taken place before their eyes is not by his own power or that of his companion, John. They are not to be gaped at as having supernatural powers. What has been done has been through the power of Jesus, who has been empowered by the God they all believe in, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus is the one his hearers “handed over” to Pilate. Here again we have this ‘handing over’, a phrase which runs like a refrain through the Gospel. And him whom they handed over was the “Holy and Righteous One”, indicating Jesus’ special relationship to the Father and his sinlessness – in stark contrast to the guilt of the murderous Barabbas.

Pilate was only too anxious to let Jesus go, being aware of his innocence, but he gave in to the demands of the crowd and yielded to their choice of a convicted murderer, Barabbas. To the crowd, Peter says:

…you killed the author of life…

While Barabbas had taken away life and was freed, Jesus – the source of life – was condemned to death. As the sequence of the Easter Sunday Mass says:

Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus.

Literally translated this means: “The Leader of life, having died, reigns alive.”

Peter and his companions are witnesses that Jesus was raised again. And it was in the name of this same Jesus that the poor beggar has been restored to health and mobility.

God has “glorified his servant” by Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The word “servant” is reminiscent of the Songs of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (and which we read early in Holy Week), especially Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. Jesus himself spoke of being a servant when he washed his disciples’ feet and when he said that he had come to serve and not to be served. All of this did not quite fit the image of the kind of Messiah the Jews were expecting.

And it is by faith in this very Jesus that the poor beggar, “lame from birth” and well known to the crowds who came regularly to the Temple, has been “made strong”:

…faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

Peter excuses his hearers (as Jesus himself did), saying they did not fully realise at the time what they were doing. Yet, the suffering of the Christ had long been foretold by the prophets. The early Christians saw the suffering and death of Jesus clearly indicated in Old Testament prophecies. The Jews, however, did not expect a suffering and dying Messiah – quite the opposite. They saw in Isaiah’s Servant Songs their own suffering as a people.

Now it is not too late for them to ‘repent’ (there is metanoia again), that is, radically to change their ways and thus have their sin taken away. To ‘repent’ is not just to express sorrow; it involves re-establishing one’s close relationship with God and submitting totally to his Way. The nearest English equivalent is ‘con-version’, a ‘turning round’, which means, of course, a ‘turning towards’.

Jesus, after all, is the prophet who was foretold by Moses, who, Peter tells the crowd, had said:

The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you.

This is a loose quotation from Deuteronomy (18:15). In fact, at the time of Jesus, some Jews expected a unique prophet to come in fulfilment of this text. So early Christianity applied this tradition and text to Jesus, especially where Christian teaching seemed to diverge from traditional Judaism.

And indeed, says Peter, every prophet from Samuel down predicted what is now taking place before their eyes. Samuel was one of the earliest of the prophets and the one who anointed David, Jesus’ ancestor, as king. So the Jews in his audience are the heirs of the prophets’ messages; they are the heirs to the covenant first made way back with Abraham:

…and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice. (Gen 22:18)

It is time now for the people to acknowledge this sacred covenant, made new through Jesus Christ, and they will do that by their accepting Jesus as their Saviour and abandoning their sinful ways to walk the Way of Jesus. Exactly the same applies to us.

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