Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Penniless Apostles

It’s Wednesday in Easter Week, and we’ve already begun our annual pilgrimage through the book of Acts. Today—like most days in the coming weeks—we have a reading that chronicles the work of the apostles (Acts 3:1-10). And in today’s reading, we encounter for the first time an important theme in the book—money and gospel don’t mix.

In this passage, we see Peter and John walking into the temple and being approached by a lame beggar for alms. The two apostles stare intently at the man, and, as the story goes, he expected something from them, but Peter declared, “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.” There’s an implicit tension there between money and Jesus, and I hear the author suggesting a familiar truth: “money can’t save you; only Jesus can.”

Luke (the author of Acts) showcases several encounters between the apostles and money that show the early church that personal possessions ran contrary to the way of Christ. Last year, I took part in a bible study that went all the way through Acts, and I was surprised to discover how many times the subject comes up. I think Luke’s audience (“most excellent Theophilus” and more) was probably a little too familiar with wealth, and the author wanted to push back a little bit on that.

It’s probably good, then, that we read this, too. Luke doesn’t jump on rich people for being rich. He isn’t telling a story that stigmatizes the wealthy in any negative light. Instead, he takes a more gentle tone—one that seems appropriate for today’s fragile economy. Peter and John—some of the biggest hitters in Christianity—declare with confidence, “We have no silver or gold, but we do have salvation in the name of Jesus.” And we should hear them saying, “Silver and gold are fine, but they won’t get you very far. Don’t put your confidence in earthly possessions but in the power of Jesus.”

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