Few scholars today would defend the speeches in Acts as representing what Peter or others said on any given occasion. As they stand, these speeches are the compositions of the author of Luke-Acts and represent his theology. At the same time, however, they frequently enshrine very early Christological materials.
Here, for instance, Jesus is called by the very early title “the Holy and Righteous One,” which describes him in his earthly life as the righteous servant of Yhwh. The title “Author of life” is probably very ancient.
The Greek word for “author” is archegos, “captain” or “leader,” and portrays Jesus as the new Moses. As the first Moses led God’s people into the land of Canaan, so the new Moses leads the faithful into life, the kingdom of God, the new Canaan.
Note, too, the primitive picture of the death and resurrection as humanity’s no and God’s yes (see the comments on last Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm).
On the other hand, the second paragraph introduces some typically Lucan themes: the Christ must suffer as the Scriptures foretell (see the Gospel).
Responsorial Psalm: 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
This psalm is an individual lament in which a pious Israelite calls out for deliverance and receives an answer in the form of vindication from his/her enemies. Thus vindicated, the plaintiff can lie down and sleep peacefully.
Since Christ is “the Holy and Righteous One,” this psalm can be applied to his death and resurrection. He was in distress and called upon the Lord, who raised him from the dead and vindicated him.
His work thus accomplished, he can sit down at the right hand of God.
To apply to Christ the words “I will lie down and sleep” (Responsorial Psalm) does not imply that he is inactive. He is our “advocate” (“paraclete,” literally “helper”) in heaven. Sin still occurs in the Christian life (when 1 John was written, the Gnostics were perfectionists who believed that proper Christians were sinless), but the exalted Christ still pleads our cause with the Father.
He is the “expiation” for our sins—a better word than “propitiation,” which suggests that God was an angry Deity who required appeasing. Rather, the exalted Christ acts as our advocate before God by applying the benefits of his death to our sins, cleansing and removing them so that we can be restored to the right relationship with God.
The Gnostics, with their slogan “we know him,” not only maintained that they no longer sinned and therefore required no continuing work of Christ to expiate their sins, but they also believed that they were dispensed from the need for moral effort.
However, the true test of our “knowing God”—that is, of religious experience—is that we keep his commandments.
This Gospel represents a departure from the norm in series B, which is to follow a course of readings from Mark, supplemented by John during Lent and the Easter season. On the third Sunday of Easter in series A, the Emmaus story was read, and today’s selection completes the Lucan appearance stories with the account of the appearance to the disciples in the upper room. It is the counterpart of John 20:19-23, which we read last week. The location—in the upper room in Jerusalem—is the same; the risen Lord’s greeting is identical. The emphasis on the physical is similar.
In John this emphasis on the physical takes the form of the invitation to touch the body of the risen One, while in Luke it takes the form of a demonstration by eating a piece of broiled fish. This detail is doubly interesting. The presence of fish suggests an original Galilean setting for this appearance story, while the meal context suggests the association of the original resurrection appearances with the Eucharist.
These primitive elements were developed (probably by the pre-Lucan tradition) for apologetic purposes similar to those which were at work in John. Luke simply takes these elements over from his tradition.
His real interest is to be found in the final paragraph—the instruction of the risen Lord to his disciples. This is again rooted in earliest tradition and has parallels in John and Matthew, for it includes the command to mission (forgiveness of sins also includes the notion of baptism; cf. Mt 28:19).
But in Luke there is a unique emphasis on the scriptures: “‘Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written ... ’”
The same themes, as we have seen, recur in the final paragraph of the reading from Acts. Clearly we have here a theological concern of Luke.