Accepting others: God's boundary crossing according to Isaiah and Luke-Acts.

Author:Balch, David L.

Wednesday, August 19,2009, was eventful for the ELCA, the day that delegates at the churchwide assembly in Minneapolis engaged in dialogue, amended, and voted two-thirds approval (precisely 66.67 percent) of the Social Statement on "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust." (1) For several hours, more than a thousand voting delegates gave reasons for and against, their eyes occasionally overflowing into tears while quoting the Bible. My colleague at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Herb Anderson, is now saying that he will emphasize "empathy" for each other within the church while teaching his pastoral care courses. After listening for days to all those Bible quotations, I came home and changed my course syllabi to include significant bibliography on Lutheran interpretation of the Bible. (2)

Jesus' and Peter's sermons

Interpreting the Bible (Luke 4 and Acts 10)

Jesus interprets the Bible in his inaugural sermon in Luke 4. Jesus' first sermon in Matthew (chaps. 5-7) is from the Q collection of his sayings, but Luke makes these sayings not his first, but Jesus' second sermon (6:17-49). Actually, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount begins (5:3) with a reference to the same text, Isaiah 61:1, but only Luke 4:18-19 climaxes this first sermon with the next verse, Isaiah 61:2: Jesus brings good news to the poor, "to proclaim the year of the Lord's acceptance" (dekton, my translation). (3)

The final word in the sermon, the verbal adjective dektos, occurs three times in Luke-Acts, twice in this story itself (see 4:24). The prophet Isaiah's words, quoted by Jesus, are then proclaimed again by the apostle Peter to Cornelius, " in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable (dektos) to him" (.Acts 10:35). The prophecy from Isaiah with which Jesus climaxes his inaugural sermon is fulfilled by God's acceptance of a pagan/Roman centurion into the people of God in Acts 10, which generated significant disputes in the early church, resulting in the first church council (Acts 15).

The theme of "acceptance" in Luke-Acts:

Proclamation and crossing social/ethnic boundaries

The theme of "acceptance is one of sixteen that biographers and historians employed and varied when telling stories of the origins of a city, ethnic group, or in Luke's story, the origin of ekklesiai, house churches. (4) Luke-Acts develops this theme in a number of passages that concern both God's prophesied "acceptance" of humans in all ethnic groups, passages that also pose the question of human "acceptance" of the gospel of God's acceptance. "The seed is the word of God, ... and the ones on the tock ate those who, when they hear the word, accept (dechontai) it with joy" (Luke 8:11,13). On the other hand, some do not accept (dechontai, Like 9:5) the twelve, whom Jesus sends out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (9:2). Who-ever accepts (dexetai) a child in Jesus' name accepts both Jesus and the One who sent him (9:48). If towns of Samaritans (9:52) welcome/accept (dechontai) the seventy [-two], there will be uncomfortable social consequences for disciples accustomed to dietary restrictions: Jesus commands, "eat what is set before you" (Luke 10:8b). (5) We read later in Acts (8:14) that "Samaria had accepted (dedektai) the word of God, so the apostles at Jerusalem send Peter and John to them." The major conflict in Acts is announced when "the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had accepted (edexanto) the word of God" (11:1). Again, "these Jews [in Beroea] were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed (edexanto) the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so" (17:11). The scriptures they were examining would have included Isaiah 61:2

Why do some accept the word, and some do not? The seventy[-two] traveling among Samaritans say, " The kingdom of God has come near to you" (10:9). Philip was also proclaiming "the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus" (Acts 8:12) in the city of Samaria. When "a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women" in Thessalonica were persuaded by Paul and Silas (Acts 17:4), local Judeans rioted, so believers packed Paul off to Beroea. There, too, "not a few Greek women and men of high standing" believed (Acts 1 7: 12) after examining the scriptures, in each of these cases the narrative includes both the word proclaimed and, simultaneously, the proclaimers and their auditors crossing social/religious boundaries. Isaiah had announced God's crossing ethnic boundaries, Jesus and Philip practice it with Samaritans, and Peter institutionalizes it by baptizing the pagan Cornelius. The question why some accept the word while others do not must include their responses to God's provocative, but prophesied, eschatological crossing of ethnic boundaries, boundaries guarded by powerful visual/bodily symbols/commands such as kosher food and circumcision that are enshrined in ancient scripture. This raises the question whether God is allowed to change, even in relation to inspired scripture.

The stories in Luke 10 and Acts 8 involve Samaritans accepting the word. The social context of both the historical Jesus and later of the evangelist Philip become clearer when we review what Josephus (Luke's contemporary) narrates about Samaritans, Josephus writes that Alexander the Great approached Jerusalem (late fourth century B.C.E.) and was shown the book of Daniel (Antiquities 1 1.337), which declares that a Greek should destroy the Persians. He supposed this Greek to be himself, Josephus tells us, and so he granted Jews in Jerusalem and those in Babylon the right to live by their own laws (11.338). He then visited the Samaritans and their metropolis, Shechem, who saw that he had honored the Jews, so they determined to profess themselves Jews, Josephus rather declares them "apostates (apostaton) of the Jewish nation" (11.340). "If anyone were accused by those of Jerusalem of having eaten things common, or of having broken the Sabbath, or of any other crime of the like nature, he fled away to the Schechemites. ..." (11.346-47)This is precisely the rumor that James reports hearing against Paul: orthopraxic believers in Jerusalem "have been told about you, that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to apostatize from Moses (apostasian ... apo Mouseos), telling them not to circumcise their children" (Acts 21:21, my translation; compare Ant. 11.340).

Antiochus IV Epiphanes took Jerusalem and installed a garrison of Macedonians, but impious and wicked Jews also lived there, according to Josephus, who caused their co-citizens much suffering (Antiquities 1 2.246, 252). Antiochus built an idol altar on God's altar and offered swine, forbidding Jews to circumcise their sons, which many obeyed (12.253-55, mid-second century B.C.E.). When Samaritans witnessed this suffering, they denied they were Jews, but rather claimed to be a colony of Medes and Persians, with which Josephus agrees (12.257). Samaritans say rather that they choose to live according to the customs of the Greeks (12.263). In this context Josephus begins narrating the revolt of...

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