Epistle: Acts 9:32 - 10:47
In the ninth chapter of Luke's second book The Acts of the Apostles, Peter is travelling. First he meets Aeneas. Aeneas is paralysed. And the story of Aeneas is a sort of echo of a story in Luke's first book, the one we call The Gospel of Luke. In that Gospel there is this place where Jesus heals a paralysed man let down through the roof by his friends. That story says something like "take up your bed and walk," rather similar to Peter's words to Aeneas. Luke is telling us that Peter is walking in the footsteps of Jesus. (Luke 5:17-26)
In fact, in Acts 3, Peter has already healed someone who cannot walk: He says to the lame man near the temple: ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’
So why does Luke have another healing of someone who can't walk? Well, Peter is now a long way from the temple and Aeneas is a Greek name. When people heard the story of Aeneas, they would think, "He was Greek," just as you might think "He's Muslim," if I talk about my friend Hussain.
Aeneas is probably a proselyte, which means he has converted to Judaism. He is officially a Jew, you might say, but just like some people keep calling one of my friends who has Australian citizenship a Pommie, Aeneas would know what it is to still be second class in the eyes of many people. But Peter and (therefore) Jesus are saying, there is no second class. God's healing and Jesus' resurrection is for Aeneas, too.
In fact... the Jewish man outside the temple was χωλὸς, which means lame, or missing a foot. Aeneas was παραλελυμένος, which is a good deal worse: he was paralysed. The greater miracle is done for the person who is even more of an outsider! Which is not to forget that like many injured or disabled people, that man, too, was marginalised.
And then there is Tabitha. She has her Jewish name, Tabitha, and her Greek name: Dorcas. She gets called both in the story, and that's a signal to us that she had a lot to do with people who were culturally Greek rather than Jewish. This means that the 'proper people' in the synagogue would think she wasn't really doing the right thing spending so much time with 'those Greeks,' even though she was devoted to good works and acts of charity. But Luke calls her a disciple. She's the only woman called a disciple of Jesus in the whole New Testament. And she is raised from the dead. "Get up," said Peter.
And you might notice that Tabitha's story sounds a lot like the story where Jesus raises a little girl from the dead. In that story, Jesus says Talitha get up. Peter says Tabitha, get up. That might be a coincidence, or it might be Luke's version of a 'dad joke,' but either way, Peter is walking in the footsteps of Jesus. (Mark 5:21-43)
Then... Peter goes and stays with Simon the tanner. Now tanneries stink, and so did the tanners. There is something to think about here: Often, we have thought that tanners were ritually unclean and didn't keep the law. Actually, it seems that was not so. Rather, the 'nice people' of society and the synagogue didn't like tanners because they stank; they were not nice people to be around.
So again, Peter is walking in the footsteps of Jesus... because Jesus went and had lunch with a tax collector called Zacchaeus, and tax collectors were not nice people to be around. (I imagine some people said they stank.) Jesus said to Zacchaeus "I must stay at your house today," and now, Peter stays with Simon. In the Greek it is exactly the same word. (μεῖναι) The message is that Jesus is even for people the rest of us want to think are not nice. (Luke 19:1-9)
What happens at Simon the tanner's house is this: While Peter is waiting for lunch, he has a dream about all sorts of animals that a voice tells him to kill and eat— and this includes animals which were unclean and not for eating. So in the dream, or vision— I'll quote a little bit, he says "'By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.' 15The voice said to him again, a second time, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Instead of thinking he's having a weird dream because he's hungry and staying with a tanner, he understands this is God's voice. He understands the dream refers to a part of the creation stories where God saw what God made and said it was good. (Have a look at Genesis 1:24) And then he understands... that since God made all things good, he shouldn't call them unclean, which means not good.
And then he understands the logical follow up to all this: it's not just about animals! It applies to people! So he says to Cornelius "‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."
All that fraternising with people on the edges of polite society; Aeneas, and Tabitha, and Simon the tanner, suddenly opens him to see that in God's kingdom there are no edges. Everyone is loved. Everyone is included in God's love... even Romans. Just how radical this is might occur to us if we imagine Peter as a good French priest in 1942, and Cornelius... as a colonel in the German army!
Now I've strayed into the story that is retold in Acts 11 next week, and Rev Steve who is preaching then, may preach on it as well! Make sure you listen, because the story of Peter and Cornelius and the Holy Spirit is still something we have not fully digested, let alone fully lived out!
But there is one thing in particular which I would like to point out. It goes across the stories we have touched upon this morning. There are two words you have heard over and again, and they are also present in the story of the lame man at the temple and the story of the little girl raised from the dead. Constantly, in the healings, people are told to get up or are raised up. On the roof, God tells Peter to get up at the moment he is seeing that all people are loved the same. Peter made Cornelius to get up, (even though our translation says 'made him stand up') for Peter is only a man, and Cornelius the Roman is his equal. There are just two Greek words used in all this: ἤγειρεν and ἀναστῆναι.
And in his preaching of the Gospel to Cornelius and his household Peter says God raised Jesus up (ἤγειρεν) and that Jesus rose (ἀναστῆναι) from the dead.
Do you see the connection between Jesus' resurrection and all these other stories which come to a head as Cornelius and and Peter realise that God loves all people just the same?
In living Jesus' way, it's not just that we will be raised from the dead. It means that in life now, we are raised up to be the people God wants us, and loves us, to be. We are brought in from the edges to the centre of life. We belong. We are the apple of God's eye— all of us, just the same.
And if we walk in Jesus' footsteps like Peter did, we will live— we will hunger— to raise people up. Do you see that when you are kind to someone;
when you give them your time;
when you respect them;
when you honour them;
when you help them;
when you bring them food, or take them to the doctor,
that you are being part of God's raising-up resurrection life?
When we do this— when you and I do this— it means we are being raised up. For, like Peter, we begin to see the world in an entirely different way: we see that it is good, and we see that God loves all people just the same. Amen.
Andrew Prior (2019)
Mark 5:41-2 σοὶ λέγω, ἔγειρε. καὶ εὐθὺς ἀνέστη
Acts 3:7 he lifted him up (ἤγειρεν)
Acts 9:34 Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up (ἀνάστηθι) and make your bed!’ And immediately he got up. (ἀνέστη)
Acts 9:40 Tabitha, get up.’ (ἀνάστηθι) Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41He gave her his hand and helped her up (ἀνέστησεν).
Acts 10:19 ‘Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, (ἀναστὰς) go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’
Acts 10:26 26But Peter made him get up, (ἤγειρεν) saying, ‘Stand up; (Ἀνάστηθι) I am only a mortal.’
Acts 10: 40 ὁ θεὸς ἤγειρεν τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ God raised him up on the third day... not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose (ἀναστῆναι) from the dead.
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