Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homily 7

Acts 2:37-47

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation."

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

Now all who believed were together, and had all things is common,

and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,

praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.


I'm astounded by the rapidity of this mass conversion. It came about by several circumstances-- the mighty wind, the miracles of the apostles' speaking in every person's native tongue, and Peter's sermon. This is a great example of synerghia-- the work of the Spirit, combined with the human efforts of convincing speech. And in the middle is something accomplished by both: the apostles' words, miraculously made comprehensible and accessible to people of all languages and cultures.

Peter says that the remission of sins comes from two things-- repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Is this the first time baptism is mentioned as something Christian? It seems to come out of the blue here.

There's also a promise that repentance and baptism result in receiving the Holy Spirit-- and that this promise extends to children.

The very first thing these new believers do is establish a new and very tightly-knit community. Their commune-- what else can we call it?-- was, starting at three thousand souls, already a megachurch.

But before anything else-- before preaching, before doing outreach or community service or anything-- they bonded together and formed a new community. This is a very, very early example of converts to Christianity moving out of their villages and into a new, Christian one.


Chrysostom begins by emphasizing how the gentleness of Peter's words had turned the angry crowds around:

Speaking to men who had crucified his Master, and breathed murder against himself and his companions, discoursed to them in the character of an affectionate father and teacher... If, therefore, you wish to place your enemy in the wrong, beware of accusing him; nay, plead for him, he will be sure to find himself guilty. (44)

Chrysostom notes that Peter "does not yet say, Believe, but 'Be baptized every one of you.' For this they received in baptism." (45) The notes to this text insist that it cannot mean that faith is a fruit of baptism, but I'm not so convinced-- that is indeed what Chrysostom seems to be saying here.

He goes on to note that the new community of the believers is a fellowship "not only in prayers, nor in doctrine alone, but also in social relations." (45)

Of the fact that the Christians continued to worship in the Temple, Chrysostom makes much. While much of the conversion is abrupt, much is also gradual. The Jewish temple cannot ultimately be a fitting place for Christians to worship because there are soon to be many Gentile believers. But for now, the new Christian community is entirely Jewish and not only does its worship remain undisturbed, it actually intensifies.

Chryosostom then speaks of the wisdom of the "artless" man:

For when you suspect no evil, neither can you fabricate any: when you have no annoyances, neither can you remember injuries. Has any one insulted you? You were not pained. Has any one reviled you? You were nothing hurt. Has he envied you? Still you had no hurt. Simplicity is a true high road to philosophy. None so beautiful in soul as the simple. (47)

He then poses the question of what will happen to a simple man who falls among wicked people, and gives many examples from the Old Testament of God preserving the holy and simple from machinations of wicked men.

The rest of the homily compares contemporary society, with its love for the riches of this life, unfavorably with the simplicity of the early Church.