Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Sirach 4 – He begins with lines of advice on dealing with the poor, the angry and the destitute, “for if a man curses you in the bitterness of his soul, his maker will hear his imprecation. Gain the love of the community, bow your head to a man of authority. To the poor man lend an ear, and return his greeting courteously” (4:7-9).
“Whoever loves her [wisdom] loves life, those who wait on her early will be filled with happiness” (4:12). For, “though she takes him at first through winding ways, bringing fear and faintness on him, plaguing him with her discipline until she can trust him, and testing him with her ordeals, in the end she will lead him back to the straight road, and reveal her secrets to him” (4:17-18).
“Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side” (4:28).
Sirach 5 – “Do not give your heart to your money, or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient’. Do not be led by your appetites and energy to follow the passions of your heart” (5:1-2).
“Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin, and do not say, ‘His compassion is great, he will forgive me my many sins’: for with him are both mercy and wrath, and his rage bears heavy on sinners. Do not delay your return to the Lord, do not put it off day after day” (5:6-7).
Sirach 6 – “Do not give in to the promptings of your temper, in case it gores your soul like a mad bull; in case it gobbles up your leaves and you lose your fruits, and are left like a withered tree” (6:1-3).
“Let your acquaintances be many, but your advisers one in a thousand. If you want to make a friend, take him on trial, and be in no hurry to trust him; for one kind of friend is only so when it suits him but will not stand by you in your day of trouble” (6:7-8).
“A faithful friend is a sure shelter, whoever finds one has found a rare treasure, a faithful friend is something beyond price, there is no measuring his worth. A faithful friend is the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find one. Whoever hears the Lord makes true friends, for as a man is, so is his friend” (6:16-17).
“[F]rom your earliest youth choose instruction, . . .[c]ultivate her . . . and wait for her fine harvest” (6:18-19).
“Listen, son, and take my warning, do not reject my advice: put your feet into her fetters, and your neck into her harness; give your shoulder to her yoke, and do not be restive in her reins; court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep in her easy; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you; once you hold her, do not let her go. For in the end you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you: her fetters you will find are a strong defense, her harness a robe of honor” (6:23-29).
Sirach 7 – “Do no evil, and evil will not befall you” (7:1).
“Do not ask the Lord for the highest place” (7:4). A long series of “do nots” follows:
“parade your virtue,” “scheme to be appointed judge,” “wrong the general body of citizens,” “be impatient in prayer,” “neglect to give alms,” “laugh at a man when he is sad of heart,” “draw up a lying indictment,” “tell lies,” “make long-winded speeches,” “shirk wearisome labor,” etc.
Then it turns to family obligations, respect for religious leaders, concern for the poor. “In everything you do, remember your end [your mortality], and you will never sin” (7:36).
Acts 5 – Ananias and his wife Sapphira, together, seek to join the community but only half-heartedly, deceitfully. They have land and sell it as new believers were wont to do. But instead of turning over everything, they keep a portion of the proceeds. Peter knows though and challenges Ananias: Why “has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?” (5:3) Ananias didn’t need to do any of this. It’s the lie that is the bad thing. Ananias “fell down and died” at Peter’s words. A little while later the same happens to his wife (5:10). Luke tells us that “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things” (5:11). This is the first use of the word church. A Jerusalem Bible note says it is adopted from the OT to signify the messianic community. In Mt 16:18, Jesus uses it to Peter. In the OT it designates the community of “chosen people,” particularly the community of the desert period. Jesus seems to indicate that the eschatological community is to have its beginning here on earth in the form of an organized society whose leader he appoints. In Acts the term refers to the community of believers in Jerusalem, but soon is applied to the communities established by the apostles outside of Jerusalem.
Many signs and wonders are done by the apostles. Believers are added in great numbers (5:14). They “even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by” (5:15). The Sadducees finally take action out of jealousy (5:17). They arrest the apostles and put them in prison. But during the night “an angel [a slap at Sadducees disbelief in angels] of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life’” (5:20). Jerusalem Bible note says literally it is “all the words of this Life.” This is the message of salvation (13:26) and life.
The authorities send to the prison to have them brought, but they learn that they are not there and are preaching in the temple. They send the captain of the temple police to get them there; they are brought without violence out of concern that the people will react badly against them. The high priest questions them and reminds them they were warned once. Peter says, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, who you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior [JB - seen as reference to titles applied to Moses, once again implying the Jesus is the New Moses. See 7:35, Heb 2:10 and 12:2] that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (5:29-32).
This speech enrages them. A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, has the apostles put out for a while so he can advise the group. His advice is to leave these men alone. If “this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (5:38-39). The council is convinced by his argument. Still they have the apostles flogged and ordered again not to speak in the name of Jesus. But they did not cease to teach in his name and “proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (5:42).
Ray Brown notes anachronisms in Gamaliel’s speech. The revolt of Theudas, which he mentions, had not yet taken place, and Judas’ revolt had taken place 30 years earlier—assuming the session took place around 36 AD. Brown also notes that Luke, unlike other gospel writers does not include Pharisees among Jesus’ enemies, and this appeal by a leading Pharisee for patience in dealing with Jesus’ followers would also indicate less friction than others sometimes indicate between Christ and the Pharisaical party.