Reflecting on Acts for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:1-11

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The miraculous nature of Peter’s rescue is heightened by the timing of the rescue—on the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial—by the double chains with which the prisoner was secured, by the fact that he was sleeping between two soldiers, and by the presence of the door guards who kept watch on the prison.

Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared by him, and a light shone in the cell. The angel awakened Peter by tapping him and ordered, “Get up quickly.” Immediately the chains fell from his wrists. The angel instructed Peter to get dressed and follow him, which Peter did.

In this dramatic scene, Luke adds a touch of humor, which will continue through the account of Peter’s meeting with the church: even as he was being rescued, Peter did not realize that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision or dream.

Luke narrates the scene of Peter’s rescue with strong echoes of both God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt and Jesus’ death and resurrection. The community prays “fervently” (ektenōs) for Peter’s release (Acts 12:5), as Jesus had prayed “so fervently” (ektenesteron) as he was suffering in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Peter is awakened, literally, “raised,” from sleep (a common biblical metaphor for death) and commanded to “get up,” literally, “arise,” by an angel appearing in light, which recalls the dazzling clothes of the angels at Jesus’ tomb (Luke 24:4). Peter’s liberation anticipates our own resurrection, our rescue from death on the last day.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Logos Upgrade for the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture

Philippians, Colossians, PhilemonActs of the ApostlesTwo new volumes from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture are now available for preorder on Logos; Acts by William S. Kurz, SJ, and Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ.

For a limited time, you can preorder both volumes for just $25.95. Also, with the Logos edition, each Scripture passage in the commentaries links with your favorite translation, and you can utilize the powerful search features of Logos Bible software to receive comprehensive, lightning-fast results.

To learn more visit the Logos website, here.

 

Reflecting on Acts for Pentecost Sunday

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:1-11

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The listeners are astounded, because they all understand the Galilean speakers in their respective languages: “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language?”

The countries mentioned cover most of the world that was known to first-century Palestine and symbolize the fact that the Church will embrace the whole world, transcending all barriers of race, class, and nation. They include the regions of Israel’s historic enemies, Mesopotamia (the center of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires) and Egypt, fulfilling God’s promise that Israel’s oppressors would one day turn and acknowledge the God of Israel as the true God (Ps 87:1–4; Isa 19:22–25)

….The fact that Jews from many different nations all heard the disciples speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God portends that the ancient tragedy of Babel (Gen 11:1–9) is now being reversed. The people at Babel had arrogantly tried to “make a name” for themselves by building a tower to the heavens—symbolizing the human attempt to seek power, wealth, and security without any reference to God. In consequence God confounded the universal human language into many different languages, which made it impossible for them to complete that tower. Instead, they were scattered throughout the world as separate nations, each with its own language.

At Pentecost, the Spirit-given ability of Jesus’ disciples to speak in various languages signifies that God is beginning to overcome human divisions. Now the Spirit has miraculously enabled Jesus’ followers to speak and be understood in many languages from all over the known world. The unifying power of the Spirit will be frequently demonstrated throughout Acts as people who would never before have associated with one another—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and prominent people, the upright and the formerly impious—share a common life of brotherhood and sisterhood in the Church.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for The Ascension of the Lord

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 1:1-11

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The disciples’ question raises concerns that will reappear in various ways in Acts: what, when, and for whom is God’s kingdom? The disciples probably have in mind God’s promises to restore the royal kingdom of David (Jer 23:5–6; Amos 9:11–12), which had been defunct since the sixth century BC. Many of their Jewish contemporaries expected that the Messiah would reestablish the political kingdom of Israel and overthrow the oppressive Roman government.

It may be that the disciples had such an understanding of the restoration of Israel. But Jesus uses the question as an opportunity to further expand their understanding of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God throughout his public ministry was rooted in the Hebrew understanding of God the Creator as having dominion over not only his own Jewish people but also all people (Tob 13:11; Ps 99:1–2; Isa 49:6).

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come,” that is, “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Matt 6:10). God’s kingdom is wherever Jesus himself is present and God’s will is loved and obeyed. Here Jesus indicates that the kingdom will be restored not by military or political conquest but by establishing his kingship in human lives through the witness of his disciples (v. 8). Jesus already reigns as king (Acts 2:34–36), although his kingdom will be fully and visibly realized only at the end of history.

Jesus puts off the disciples’ question about a specific time for the restoration of Israel’s kingdom with a simple answer: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons.” Questions about God’s timetable were often raised by Jews in the first century (and continue to be asked by Christians today), but Jesus refuses to answer this question. His disciples will receive God’s power, not to exercise political authority, but to be his witnesses.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

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Luke shows that God continues to work his saving plan even through apparent setbacks. Here the persecution that forced disciples out of Jerusalem, which can certainly be regarded as a defeat for them on the human level, is directly used by God to spread his word of salvation. The very disciples who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

The followers of Jesus evidently regarded evangelization as a natural response to new circumstances, unexpected though they were. Philip, the second Hellenist named after Stephen in the list of those designated as leaders by the apostles (Acts 6:5), is the first missionary mentioned. He took the word to Samaria, where he proclaimed the Messiah to them.

Samaria was part of the area belonging to the northern kingdom of Israel, which split off from Judah after Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 12). Thee ten tribes of the northern kingdom were exiled into Assyria in 722 BC, and their land was repopulated with non-Israelites. By New Testament times, Jews regarded Samaritans as mixed-blood heretics who refused to worship in the temple at Jerusalem (see John 4:20). Philip’s mission is the first reported mission beyond Jerusalem, fulfilling what Jesus had prophesied in Acts 1:8.

Verse 6 repeats one of Luke’s favorite expressions to highlight the unity among those who heard the word preached by Philip: with one accord. The signs that Philip was doing moved the Samaritan crowds to pay attention to his preaching. Luke mentions especially Philip’s exorcisms and physical healings: unclean spirits cried out in a loud voice when they came out of many possessed people; there were also healings of many paralyzed and crippled people. All these wondrous signs worked by Philip resulted in great joy in that city.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 6:1-7

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The continuing growth of the Church did not come without growing pains. As the number of disciples grew, so did complaints. The complaints ran along the lines of linguistic tensions within the community. The newer minority group, the Hellenists, were Diaspora Jews who spoke Greek, used the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) as their Bible, and had lived outside of Palestine but then had migrated to Palestine and were now members of the Jerusalem Christian community. The majority group were the Hebrews, Jews native to Palestine who spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, and whose Bible was primarily the Hebrew Old Testament.

These ethnic complaints were precipitated by practical matters. The minority Hellenists complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food and financial assistance. Luke previously showed that within the community of believers those who had extra property sold some of it and presented the proceeds to the apostles, who distributed the money or goods to those in need (4:34–35). The Old Testament frequently urges care for those most vulnerable, especially widows and orphans. The prophets emphasize that justice and mercy to the poor are grave obligations of God’s people, more important than temple sacrifices (see Isa 1:11–18; 58:6–12; Amos 8:3–7).

The complaints from the aggrieved minority are not ignored by those in authority, the Twelve. They called together the community of the disciples to ensure the participation of the whole church in resolving the problem, and then announced their proposed solution. A most generous solution it is, for all the new officeholders they appoint have Greek names and thus apparently are members of the complaining minority group, the Hellenists. We have seen how the placing of goods for distribution “at the feet of the apostles” symbolizes the apostles’ authority (Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2). Now this newly appointed group of seven, all apparently Hellenists, share in the apostles’ authority over the community.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:14a, 36-41

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Listening to Peter’s speech, the people are cut to the heart—a sign that the Holy Spirit has convicted their consciences of sin and opened their hearts to believe Peter’s message. To their question what they are to do, Peter responds: “Repent and be baptized”—summing up the Christian call to conversion, which is grounded in Jesus’ own message, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Similar instructions will be given by Ananias at Paul’s conversion: “Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name” (Acts 22:16). Even though one aspect or the other may not be explicit, throughout Acts the response that the gospel requires is threefold: faith, repentance, and baptism.

In the New Testament, forgiveness of sins is closely linked with repentance. God desires to forgive all sinners, but his respect for human freedom necessitates that we accept his forgiveness by admitting and repenting of our guilt. This parallels a fact of human experience, that when a wrong has been committed but not acknowledged and renounced, even if the person who suffered the wrong is willing to forgive, reconciliation remains incomplete.

Like the whole New Testament, Peter affirms that entrance into Christ’s Church is through baptism, at least for everyone after the initial 120 on whom the Spirit first descended. A useful comment is offered by Raymond Brown:

“Baptism as a public action is important. . . . Peter is portrayed as asking people to make a visible and verifiable profession of their acceptance of Jesus. This is tantamount to asking people to ‘join up.’ The basic Israelite concept is that God chose to save a people, and the renewal of the covenant on Pentecost has not changed that. There is a collective aspect to salvation, and one is saved as part of God’s people.”

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for the Third Sunday of Easter

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:14, 22-33

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Psalm 16 expresses Jesus’ confident hope even during his passion that he would be raised from the dead: “My flesh, too, will dwell in hope.” The reason for his hope follows: “because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.” The Jewish view was that physical decay began on the fourth day after death, as illustrated in Martha’s comment that there would be an odor because Lazarus had been dead four days (John 11:39). But Jesus was raised on the third day—a sign that this prophecy that God’s holy one “would not see corruption” was fulfilled in him!

The psalm continues, “You will fill me with joy in your presence.” As Peter points out, Ps 16 cannot apply to David himself, because his tomb is in our midst to this day. This is in sharp contrast to Jesus’ tomb, which was known to be empty (Luke 24:1–8). David’s prophecy in Ps 16:10 quoted by Peter, “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,” could not have applied to himself since he had been dead and buried for a thousand years. But because David was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne (see Ps 132:11–12), he spoke rather of his descendant, Jesus: he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah.

If Jesus’ body had, like David’s, been known to still be in his tomb, Jesus’ resurrection could have been easily disproved. But Peter’s listeners do not dispute the fact that his tomb was empty. The empty tomb is necessary evidence of Jesus’ resurrection though it is not in itself sufficient to prove it. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection depends on the apostles’ eyewitness testimony that he is alive: of this we are all witnesses.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for the Sunday of Divine Mercy

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:42-47

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All who believed were together, which indicates that they gathered often in settings such as their homes and the temple (2:46). That they had all things in common indicates that their intense spiritual unity led to a sharing of material possessions. This sharing, in direct contrast to the human tendency toward possessiveness, is a powerful testimony to the presence of the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus.

Luke’s portrayal of the early Christian community later became an inspiration for communal ownership of goods in monastic communities, in which monks literally surrender all worldly goods to the common account. Luke, however, does not indicate that all Christians practiced such strict sharing of goods. When Peter rebukes Ananias’s dishonest claim about his land sale, he says, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain yours? And when it was sold, was it not still under your control?” (see Acts 5:4).

Luke’s words echo a well-known Hellenistic proverb about friendship: “Friends hold all things in common.” The proverb declares that friends are willing to share all things when there is need, although usually they do not literally do so.

What did happen in the early Christian community was that some wealthy members would sell their property and possessions, as Barnabas did in Acts 4:36–37, to divide them among all according to each one’s need.  That is, those who had extra goods sold them to provide for the needs of the poor, especially widows and orphans (Acts 6:1). Among all the members was a bond of “friendship,” mutual care, that was astounding and powerfully attractive to those who observed it.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

New Release: Acts of the Apostles

Cover ArtIn this addition to the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, William Kurz offers a close reading and explanation of the entire narrative of Acts, grounded in the original Greek but keyed to the NABRE for liturgical use.

This volume, like each in the series, relates Scripture to life, is faithfully Catholic, and is supplemented by features designed to help readers understand the Bible more deeply and use it more effectively.

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“William Kurz, an accomplished biblical scholar, has a written a commentary on Acts that is up to date on current critical scholarship yet accessible to a wide audience of readers. Throughout the commentary one can see Kurz’s clear understanding of the relationship of Acts to the first volume by the same author, the Gospel of Luke. Kurz is always positive in dealing with problem areas of the text. This work will be especially valuable for study groups, college students, and preachers of the Word.” – Terence J. Keegan, OP, Providence College

“In this volume, Kurz provides students and pastors a rare combination of careful scholarship and pastoral insight. Kurz writes as a seasoned Lukan scholar–a pioneer in narrative criticism–and implores the Church to extend Luke’s vision concerning ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach . . . to the ends of the earth.'” – Martin Mittelstadt, Evangel University

“Kurz sees the Acts narrative not just as a coherent story about the past–our Church’s earliest moments of evangelistic mission–but also as a mirror the contemporary Church may peer into to see its deepest identity manifested within the stories of the major figures led by God to advance the Church’s mission to the ‘ends of the earth.’ It is a great service to provide a commentary that is technically pristine, theologically alert, and pastorally sensitive.” – Stephen Miletic, Franciscan University of Steubenville

“In this book, Kurz provides necessary historical and cultural background while reading the text within the Church’s tradition. He writes with the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor, all in an accessible style.” – Martin C. Albl, Presentation College

“William Kurz combines the best of contemporary scholarship with the riches of tradition. His commentary is the fruit of a lifetime of work on Luke-Acts.” – Jeremy Holmes, Wyoming Catholic College

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William S. Kurz, SJ (PhD, Yale University), is professor of New Testament at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he has taught for more than thirty-five years. He is the author of numerous books, including Reading Luke-Acts: Dynamics of Biblical Narrative.

For more information on Acts of the Apostles, click here.