For the next several weeks, I’ll be leading a discussion group on the Acts of the Apostles at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Coal Valley, Ill.
It seems easy enough to recap what we discuss here for you, too. Hope you enjoy it. Chime in if you wish!!!
Let’s start with an overview of the Bible and a discussion of what Sacred Scripture is all about.
Literally, Bible means ‘The Books.’ Together, they tell the story of salvation history, of God in relation to creation and humanity.
‘Testament’ means agreement or covenant. It is about relationship. God says to Abraham, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ God wants us to be faithful in return.
The Old and New Testament stories of this relationship with the Divine are told through a variety of literary styles, such as poetry, wisdom literature, historical accounts, prayers and songs.
The Book of Judges is a perfect example of the sin cycle we see again and again in the Old Testament: God favors people, people sin, people experience the consequences of their sin or infidelity, people ask forgiveness, God shows forgiveness and favor. At that point, the sin cycle begins again.
The Books of the Prophets also provide examples of God trying to convey a message of fidelity and goodness of life to the people. Through the prophets, God seems to say, “This is how I want you to live.”
Despite their good advice, the prophets were seldom appreciated and much ignored. Much like pesky gnats that just won’t go away, the prophets kept up their message, even at the risk of their own lives. Too often the prophetic message went unheeded and God’s Chosen People suffered subjection, enslavement and disasters.
I have an image of God, frustrated beyond belief. ‘No matter what I do or say, they sin!’ God mulls over the situation and finally hits on the solution. ‘I’ve tried everything else. I guess I’ll just have to go take care of this myself.’
Indeed, that’s what the New Testament is all about: God comes to tell us how and why we are to behave with love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. Yes, God, becomes incarnate; one of us, in the person of Jesus. The Word of God becomes flesh to show us God’s will and the depth of God’s love.
John the Baptist is the “bridge” between the Old and the New Testament. John tells us the wait for a “messiah” is over. John calls out the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” John tells the people, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
The New Testament, or covenant, is manifest in the person of Jesus. The 4 Gospels recount the life of Jesus from his birth through his ministry, passion, death, resurrection and promise of the Holy Spirit.
The Epistles, or Letters, support, encourage and sometimes reprimand the new communities of Christians as they grow in their new found faith.
The Book of Revelation (or Apocalypse), written in highly symbolic language, is a vision attributed to John, which calls for Christians to remain steadfast in their faith, even in the midst of persecution and death. The Book of Revelation is a message of hope, consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe.
The Acts of the Apostles – written by Luke as a sequel to his Gospel – tells how the Apostles and disciples spread the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Remember that for the people of that time the “ends of the earth” meant the limits of the Roman Empire!
So, with that overview of Sacred Scripture, we will begin our journey with the Apostles and disciples as they, filled with the Holy Spirit, go forth to share the good news.
We will read several chapters each week. I recommend you read each section several times, looking for what strikes you. What touches, inspires or perplexes you? Feel free to comment right here!
Next up: a discussion of Acts 1-7.