The word used as a request and quickly spoken in the hustle of the checkout line or on the bus usually means: Pardon! I’m sorry. Put into bigger words: Forgive me. Such a sentence does not come naturally.
Already on the first pages of the bible we can find what usually happens, told quite matter-of-factly: “The woman gave me …”. “The snake tricked me …”. Everyone blames each other. Through such words the paradisiac garden is lost. There never actually was a conversation in paradise like this, but the issue was there and still is today. It can only be eliminated through behavior like Dag Hammerskjöld, the second United Nations Secretary-General, describes in his diary: “Forgiveness breaks the causal chain because he, who forgives out of love, takes responsibility for the consequences of what you have caused.” It is the key to reopening the garden. acb
After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree, the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!” The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me — she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; on your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”
Sign of Freedom
For the ancient philosopher Seneca, who had many slaves, the biblical culture of a free day of rest was an outrage, economical ignorance that lets working power lie dormant. Freedom was a privilege for only a few.
Throughout its history Israel has learned that freedom, first and foremost, is a gift granted by the God of Exodus. For this to not be forgotten, every week needs an interruption, free time to remember: the seventh day. A day of rest follows on six days of any kind of work. It applies to the slave and the stranger, even to ox and donkey. The history of liberation is supposed to spill over to the entire people and all areas of life. The rest from work, when it is opened towards God, helps to protect the gift of freedom. The humanizing effect of the day of rest extends way beyond the People of God itself from ancient times until today. hak
Take care to keep holy the sabbath day as the LORD, your God, commanded you. Six days you may labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then, whether by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or ass or any of your beasts, or the alien who lives with you. Your male and female slave should rest as you do. For remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you from there with his strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
Like an opened umbrella
When the People of Israel set out from Egypt it knew nothing of the difficulties it would be challenged to overcome afterwards. In hindsight many years later, they all come to marvel at what kind of God it is that led them during the journey through the desert.
Also after Moses contemporaries, who had a similar experience, were found again and again: Letting oneself be led by God and then recognize that he was effective in the decisive moments. Like an opened umbrella, this history’s arc reaches form Moses until today. The same God is celebrated as the one who walked ahead from the beginning. ruk
Moses said to the people: Ask now of the days of old, before your time, ever since God created man upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the LORD, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.
“Parthians, Medes, and Elamites…” And then the Acts of the Apostles lists 13 more peoples who were able to witness an international understanding at Pentecost in Jerusalem. An antique form of the United Nations? It took the world wars for the idea of a worldwide league of nations to develop in the prior century.
The reason for the Jerusalem understanding is another. The idea of the God of Israel stood at the beginning and let it become reality. He looked deeper, more critically at history than the idea providers of the United Nations and saw: Man can understand neither himself, nor his fellow men, as long as he does not recognize from whom he has received life and reason-mind. And he searched, found and called a few, who understood him and acted: Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Ezekiel and many others. Their insight, their trust and courage are what Israel and the Church owe their existence to. It all came to a conclusion in a room in Jerusalem with a few Jews. Proceeding from here even more is possible than non-war: Peace. As long as also today insightful, faithful, courageous people can be found. bek
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
The Twelfth Man
The gap Judas left has to be filled to restore the full number of witnesses. With Easter there wasn’t merely an insight formed that you can just convey through clever talk, but something that has to be witnessed and testified to through life.
Through being and living with Jesus a ministry develops. But in no way is this the beginning of a break from original living towards rigid ministry structures, quite the contrary: The criterion for the selection of the candidates is that they “accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us.” They have to have come along on every step that Jesus took with the Twelve. This “accompanied us” creates the continuity with Jesus’ time. The ministry is living-with and this living-with is the ministry. tac
Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers — there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place —. He said, “My brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry. “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
May another take his office. “Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Judas called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.
The Feast of Pentecost on the fiftieth day as Luke describes it was a Jerusalem and a Jewish event: The re-gathering of Israel starts with Jews.
This Sunday another Pentecost is talked of, not in Jerusalem, but in Caesarea by the sea. He, who experiences it, is not a Jew, but a Roman officer of the garrison stationed there with his family, god-fearing gentiles. The story and how it gets to that point is the longest single pericope in the New Testament, besides the Passion. Whoever reads it in full is met by the outrageousness Luke wants to express: The wall separating Jews and Gentiles is removed. To make clear that this has already taken place, all of heaven takes action to move the realization-resistant Peter from Jerusalem to Caesarea. Cornelius is the reason his eyes are opened for the universal dimension of Pentecost. ars
Now in Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Cohort called the Italica, devout and God-fearing along with his whole household, who used to give alms generously to the Jewish people and pray to God constantly. One afternoon about three o'clock, he saw plainly in a vision an angel of God come in to him and say to him, “Cornelius.” He looked intently at him and, seized with fear, said, “What is it, sir?” He said to him, “Your prayers and almsgiving have ascended as a memorial offering before God. Now send some men to Joppa and summon one Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with another Simon, a tanner, who has a house by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from his staff, explained everything to them, and sent them to Joppa.
The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all the earth's four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.” But Peter said, “Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean.” The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you are not to call ” This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into the sky. While Peter was in doubt about the meaning of the vision he had seen, the men sent by Cornelius asked for Simon's house and arrived at the entrance. They called out inquiring whether Simon, who is called Peter, was staying there. As Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said (to him), “There are three men here looking for you. So get up, go downstairs, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them.” Then Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your being here?” They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, respected by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to summon you to his house and to hear what you have to say.”
So he invited them in and showed them hospitality. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went with him. On the following day he entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, paid him homage. Peter, however, raised him up, saying, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.” While he conversed with him, he went in and found many people gathered together and said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean. And that is why I came without objection when sent for. May I ask, then, why you summoned me?” Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, three o'clock in the afternoon, I was at prayer in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling robes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your almsgiving remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter. He is a guest in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and you were kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these things, the holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter responded, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for a few days.
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers confronted him, saying, “You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.” Peter began and explained it to them step by step, saying, “I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me. Looking intently into it, I observed and saw the four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. I also heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.’ But I said, ‘Certainly not, sir, because nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time a voice from heaven answered,‘What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.’ This happened three times, and then everything was drawn up again into the sky. Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. He related to us how he had seen (the) angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter, who will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’ As I began to speak, the holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning, and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.”
Mobile phone, mobile society, mobile in old age. Like hardly anything else mobility defines our world and our life. Then, like it’s coming out of the woodwork, the word “remain” appears.
Immediately it is mentioned eight times in the short paragraph from the gospel of John. We almost knew it: Church and Christianity are the opposite of mobile. Rigidity and immobility are their hallmarks. But John’s remaining is not a “remaining as it was”, but being loyal, staying with it. It is not a state that remains, but a connection. Every day can be different. To remain means: sharing life and fate with the man from Nazareth and his disciples. acb
Jesus said to his disciples: I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
One single name
In the ancient world the name stands for the person. It indicates the person’s nature and will. This also applies to the name of God. His “proper name” JHWH has a dynamic meaning: “I am there for you”.
After Easter, the Jew Peter and his companions declare: Jesus is the only name through which salvation and help can come. The disciples had realized that God is there and that he helps through this craftsman from Nazareth, who did good and gathered Israel anew. This is also the meaning of Jesus’ name, Je-shua, “JHWH saves”. The dynamic of the name of God is personified in him and works on where the disciples do what he did in his name. hak
Nothing new under the sun?
Twice the word “commandments” comes up in the paragraph from the Letter of John. But don’t we know them by now? Since Israel solemnly received them at Sinai?
In the Gospel of John Jesus formulates the novelty of his commandment. One could describe it as the inner destination route of all commandments of the bible known to this point: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.” As strange as it may sound, the word “love” is a technical term here that represents the translation of the Greek word “agapein”. It describes the togetherness of the baptized — with the goal to build up the community — as material visible body of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. That is as forgotten as it is excitingly new. bek
My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.
The fourth paradise
In the young creation, according to Genesis, there was a garden laid out by God where man had everything he needed. The garden was lost — since then God’s history with His people is continually on the trail of paradise.
It was within their reach when Israel, having escaped the Egyptians, came closer to the Promised Land in the desert. An exceedingly rich land that could only be won, however, through the keeping of the Tora. It receded into the distance for Israel during exile. It was promised again as return and reentry into the land — out of mercy. But it remained a promise, the land occupied, the people in great need. Luke did not shy away from saying about the post-Easter communities: No one there was in need, for they had everything in common. With this he describes their sober reality as the fulfilled promise of paradise. tac
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.