Two weeks ago, we encountered Melchizedek, a mysterious figure who appears out of nowhere in the book of Genesis, then disappears. The only other references in the Bible are one picked up in psalm 110, and a reference in Hebrews. While prayers, often content in the psalms connect to the historical books of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Other connections? Last week we had the story of Elijah resuscitating the only son of a widow, followed by a Gospel that very likely was significantly influenced by the story in the book of Kings.
Within, through, beyond the details of our first reading, the key theological point occurs in the last 2 sentences. The woman recognizes Elijah as a man of God. She also recognizes that he speaks the word of the Lord, and that the word of the Lord is effective: what God says happens. Similar conclusions are drawn by the people in today’s Gospel.
The first reading from Genesis today mentions Melchizedek. Name sound familiar? Who is this guy? Well, he only appears in the Bible in the brief reference in Genesis, in psalm 110 (which we hear fairly often), and in Hebrews. He is the King of Salem (an ancient name for Jerusalem), and a priest. But that shouldn’t raise eyebrows. In many ancient cultures, the King, Pharaoh, top ruler, even in the Roman Empire, Caesar, was also a high priest.
Deep relationships take time to develop. The process of truly getting to know someone unfolds slowly. Humanity’s relationship with God is no different. Many of our earliest ancestors believed in many gods. Slowly monotheism emerged. More time, and the understanding came that there is one God, but in a community of persons.
Not an easy task. Folks who have studied such things tell us that powerful experiences of God, by their nature, are ineffable; beyond the power of our words. Crank it up to a whole room full of people simultaneously having a powerful experience of God’s presence, and we are really at a loss. So Luke does the best he can: a noise like a strong driving wind (but inside the house), tongues of fire, pressure of speech, and as the action moves outside, there is a miracle of communication. The room shaking – we may have experienced that.
Death is an ending, right? Not in God’s plan! Our 1st reading from Acts of the Apostles recounts Stephen’s ‘falling asleep’. Rather than a tragic account of brutal death, bringing an end to Stephen’s life, Luke points out the real significance. Not an ending, his stoning was a beginning. For him, a beginning of life in glory with his risen Lord. For the church, the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles. The result of the persecution culminating in Stephen’s death? The apostles faith was strengthened by the witness of how he forgave his enemies and entrusted himself to Christ.
As more and more Gentiles came to believe in Jesus, ready to become part of the community, the issue of whether they needed to abide by all of the laws of the Jewish tradition became quite hot. Did they need to convert to Judaism to become Christian? Our first reading reflects the decision on how to move into the future. Notice: they believed that if they approached the question prayerfully, debated back and forth, and came to an answer the majority could live with, the Holy Spirit could be recognized in the process.
Today’s passage from Acts of the Apostles is about St. Paul’s first missionary journey. Turns out Paul and Barnabas were commissioned at Antioch, traveled to Cyprus, Pamphilia, Pisidia, Antioch, Attalia & back to Antioch. Sound confusing? There were actually 16 or 17 cities named Antioch in the ancient world (Seleucus I Nicator liked to name cities after his father, Antiochus). The two Antiochs mentioned here are Antioch on the Orontes (in Syria) and Antioch of Pisidia.
Elizabeth’s unborn child leapt for joy in the womb when expectant Mary came visiting. Angels brought glad tidings of great joy at Jesus’ birth. Luke lets us know right from the start that his message is a joyful one. There is joy in the Gospel, and we hear about the Holy Spirit in the very first chapter. But the joy truly breaks out in book two, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit becomes a lead character. Joy and the Holy Spirit both figure in today’s first reading. Here is the best part: the joy doesn’t depend on what is going on around these early Christians.
Right from the beginning of Luke’s two volume work (Luke-Acts), he has faithful, devoted Jews, Anna & Simeon offer prophecies about Jesus. By Gospels’ end, the prophecies are fulfilled. Early in the Acts of the Apostles, in the verses omitted in our 1st reading, Gamaliel, a wise Jewish leader and member of the Sanhedrin offers advice, a prophecy that will be fulfilled by the end of Acts.