So even the first chapter of Acts has a couple funny parts.
But first a little scene-setting: Luke and Acts are basically a pair. Same author, same audience, same challenges. Probably written about 50 years after Jesus died. Like the other gospels, not written to document facts like modern history but to make an argument about who this Jesus was. Like the other gospels, drew on stories that were handed down to craft a narrative; like Matthew, used Mark as an outline added some things from a source since lost to history, and shaped them to make a case.
All the New Testament wraps around three issues:
1) The first followers of Jesus had an experience of him after he died that they couldn’t explain away and couldn’t really describe except as a Resurrection, different from Lazarus and others (including folks today) who “code” and then come back to the life they knew before, more or less. This was different, and it was so mind-blowing that almost all of the disciples were willing to be martyred rather than deny what they experienced. The heart of the New Testament is trying to make sense of what that experience of a resurrected Jesus was.
2) The first wave of disciples had died, and yet the world still turned. The earliest believers thought Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the end of the world and that the rest would happen really soon. By the time the Gospels (and Acts) were written, it was clear that that was not the plan. So they had to try to come to grips with that.
3) Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and he taught within the rabbinical tradition to a group that was mostly Jewish. But once he died, his following caught fire not among Messianic Jews but among Gentiles. Matthew and Luke, especially, try to make the argument that even though they proclaimed that the God of the Hebrews had sparked this Church of Gentiles, He wasn’t a fickle God who had changed allegiances, but the shift was “part of the plan” all along. Matthew does this by incessantly citing Old Testament verses to “prove” who Jesus was. Luke does it more subtly, by using the rhetorical style and preference for the underdog that marks the Old Testament. But they’re getting after the same point: even though things are different than you expected, God can be trusted. So in Matthew, the Uber-Jewish version of Jesus tells his followers to get out of Jerusalem and go spread the gospel to everyone. While Luke, more grounded in the outsiders, has the apostles starting off in Jerusalem.
During the quarantine, we’ve taken to exposing Betsy to the classic films of our youth and young adulthood. While April uses “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in class and Betsy had seen snippets over the years, we finally watched the whole thing as a family. And, if you are of my generation, you know that one of the little charms of that movie was Matthew Broderick’s repeated breaking of the fourth wall (talking directly to the audience). It even happens at the end of the credits; after a prolonged narrative of the evil principal, Ed Rooney, trudging home in defeat, after the last credit a bathrobed Broderick leaves his room and in the hall addresses the camera, shooing the audience away with “You’re still here? Go home! The movie’s over.”
I can never read Acts 1:11 without hearing Broderick as one of the angels telling the disciples, who have just watched Jesus ascend into the sky, “Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” Go home. The movie’s over.
[Of course, the angels then say he’ll be coming back the same way he left. Which, were it me, I’d keep looking up, too, just in case.]
And here’s the other little thing I enjoyed:
So the apostles go back to the room they were camping out in in Jerusalem (like the worst AirBnB guests ever) and just hang out for a while, until Peter gathers 120 of them (how big IS that loft, anyway?) and says we need to replace Judas. Today was the first time it struck me that after Peter prays for divine guidance on who should be the new 12th man (as it were), they flip a coin. Not “tell us in prayer which one to pick”; not “let’s have an interview, talent and swimsuit competition”; just “we know you’ll tell us who You want” and they flip a coin.
When April and I were in college, I coined a phrase we use today: “a Tom’s machine experience.” I would often go to the vending machine in the basement of my residence hall, not quite sure what I wanted. I would put in the money and hit the buttons of both of the things I couldn’t decide on. And as the winning item rolled out of the corkscrew holder and fell to the bottom to be retrieved, sometimes I would be happy. Other times, I’d be a little disappointed, because in choosing, I realized that what I’d really wanted was the other thing whose button I pushed. That’s a Tom’s machine experience. (Do any of you have that type of regret? Or is that my own little quirk?)
So I wonder, as the lots came up Matthias, if Peter or anyone else secretly winced and thought “Should have been the other guy” (who clearly receded into oblivion, since Acts has three different names for the runner-up).
Anyway, this is how most of Acts goes. And if Joseph/Barsabbas/Justus isn’t an official saint of the Church, he ought to be, because the forgotten other guy is my closest spirit animal.
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