The Narrative Lectionary commentary is here. From that page, you can also find the podcast (right-hand column) and the text references.
This week’s passages can feel a little disjointed and, thus, slippery. Where is the gill of the text- the place where it breathes and where you can grab hold of it? (If I was to continue with the fishing metaphor, the next item of business would be to bop it in the head until its eyes glazed over in death. Um, let’s not go that far.)
As we are introduced to Saul (Paul) and Barnabas here, there’s no road to Damacus. Instead we are meet as rag-tag a group of disciples on The Way as there ever was. It makes one long for the reality homogenity of the Jerusalem-bound crew who strolled with Jesus. In the Antioch church, we have a Jew (?) from Cyprus whose practice is certainly questionable since he is not likely to have been able to make a trip to the temple, a black man, a North African (color? race?), a servant or friend of Herod Antipas (killer of John the Baptist), AND one Pharisee who held jackets so that others had full use of their arms for the stoning of Stephen. Hooray! And we want to imagine that our efforts at inclusive church (however they look) are radical and ground-breaking.
That bit of information right there is enough for a sermon. Could your congregation wrestle with what it would mean to be side-by-side in biblical study or community work with people who are their opposite in everywhere- in origin, in race, in worldview- and yet to be open to how the Holy Spirit would speak to the group?
The second part of the reading has a different orientation. Here the author of Acts is making Paul’s mission the parallel of Peter’s in earlier chapters. Peter heals a sick man, Paul heals a sick man. Peter’s understanding of inclusion is broaden, Paul’s is deepened. Peter is mistaken for a God; they thought Paul was Hermes!
The author needs to establish Paul’s credibility among those who believe that the ability to communicate the faith rests on those who saw Jesus in the flesh. As Paul’s testimony is proved credible again and again as he points to Christ in all the same ways that Peter did in very similar situations, followers of the Way can trust the Spirit’s work in those who are outside of the circle of the Twelve in Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas react with grief (tear their clothes) at the idea that anyone would think they were gods/God. Their reaction, which we might perceive as extreme, is significant because it conveys to those who are watching them that the mistake is a grievous error, on par to receiving news of a death. Not only are these disciples stricken to have been called “gods”, but they are distraught that the Lyaconions would have consistently missed the clues that God had placed in front of them to be perceived by natural reason and discernment.
How distraught are our congregations that people miss the signs of God’s presence on earth?
What theological errors or misattributions are so great as to make us rend our clothes?
What grief exists when we perceive the gods that people make- even within our churches- with regard to denominations, factions, translations, traditions, pastors/leaders, or other issues?
In what direction are you being led by this week’s passages? Are you trying to combine them in any way with Good Shepherd Sunday? Any special Easter 4 traditions at your place? Please share in the comments.