In our present context, it is easy to see why, even in the Church, such a manner of life, in which possessions were held in common, as is described in Acts 4 would be greeted with as much scorn and ridicule as if one had suggested the normalization of pedophilia.
This procession down to Jerusalem is one of those very public moments in Jesus’ ministry. It could be called his most brilliant act of political theatre. Jesus proceeds toward Jerusalem, with a crowd that undoubtedly boasts some of the same sorts of outsiders Jesus has been connecting with all along: sinners, the possessed, the sick and blind, women, and foreigners. The crowd that shouts Hosanna would have been laughed at by any sensible members of society who happened upon this odd ritual. Much like I imagine today those with a high sense of their own political value would little understand what compelled these odd folk to gather as they had, creating trouble when they had little to gain but jail cells and crosses…
Where are you from? It may seem polite conversation, or an extraneous identifier, but it matters. In politics, it matters a lot. In the ongoing Republican quest for a nomination in the presidential race, certain candidates have made it clear that what matters are the delegates—and winning the states that secure the most delegates. If you’re not from one of those states, at least in this matter, your vote carries less weight. Similarly, as a registered democrat in a strong Republican county, my vote in the presidential race if I vote party line, is unlikely to actually change the dispersion of my state’s votes in the electoral college. And even more locally, when I moved to a small town in Western Pennsylvania, a dear friend who had lived in that town for more than 30 years, worked there, retired there, and raised her family there, advised me, “Don’t worry about being new to town; everyone here is welcoming, but after thirty years, I’m still not ‘from here.’” She was right. Where you’re from matters…
In the end, John 3 presents a very troubling political and theological landscape: there is us and there is them, and them are where they are because they hate what we stand for. The warm and fuzzy feeling that is generally associated with John 3:16 can only be maintained if one stops reading right there. It gets scary and divisive and not very loving thereafter.
John offers the temple story at the beginning of his gospel although the other Synoptics place it at the end. Why might this be so? In my view, John wants to introduce us to the portrait of a “radical” Jesus whose revelatory message supercedes and fulfills the tenets of Judaic law, even to the point that it abolishes aspects of this law, a theme that will continue throughout the rest of his gospel.
“Baptism…now saves you…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven, and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:22)
Aside from winning awards for the number of clauses in a single sentence (and the Greek sentence actually begins before verse 21), today’s epistle reading makes big claims! God has made all powers subject to Jesus Christ! But “all” is a big term, especially in a world that doesn’t always feel subject to God. And so the question that lingers today is, “What did the author of 1 Peter mean by “angels, authorities, and powers?”
The “comfortably numb” posture of many a pastor in the West has become a commonplace, aided and abetted by congregations who want to have confirmed what they already believe and who want their “prophets” fit for the Rotary or the Chamber of Commerce and who either can’t see or can’t say what they see.