Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peter's Visitation

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. [3] She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics [4] and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.  (Acts 9:32-43 (ESV)
Luke now gives us two episodes from the travels of Peter that are building up to a transition in his narrative. These narratives are meant to show the position of Peter in the early church. Already as part of his Apostolic office he is taking on the tasks later associated with that of a Bishop, namely visitation. He goes as a missionary also, to be sure. There is no apostle, bishop or pastor that is not also a missionary or evangelist. But these trips are concerned with visiting congregations already established and not planting new ones. Both in Lydda and in Joppa there are already Christians. Peter goes to measure their welfare, to see how these congregations are faring, to clear up doctrinal questions, to teach and so forth. The kind of thing that in theory is handed to our Circuit Visitors within the LCMS.
During his travels he heals one person and raises another from the dead. These miracles served as signs for the entire community and caused the people to convert, to “turn to the Lord.” This was the point for which the disciples were given these abilities. It wasn’t for side show entertainment of the type a person so often sees on T.V these days. Rather than Peter amassing a huge following, the people turn to the Lord. They understand that it is Christ doing these things through Peter. It is also an attestation to Peter’s privileged place as an apostle. The other Christians didn’t do these things, Peter did them. It was not due to lack of faith on behalf of these Christians that they were unable to raise the dead or heal the sick. But it was a sign that these men walked in the ways of the Lord with his particular blessing. They were given his authority.

After Peter raises Tabitha, he stays with Simon, a tanner. This is the transition point. In a short while the text will become almost completely occupied with the exploits of Paul among the gentiles. So the  story of Peter is coming to a climax as he stays with a tanner. The point of it is that Peter is breaking with Jewish tradition and the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. He is no longer worried about keeping himself clean in the Old Testament spiritual sense. Scrupulous Jews would not have wanted to stay in the house  of a tanner, not only because of the stench surrounding such an abode, but also because the constant contact with dead animals would mean that one would be constantly not clean. It was things like that that made the possibility of being a respected Pharisee a proposition unattainable for the average Jew in the first century. You actually had to have wealth enough to pay someone else to do all your dirty work so you could keep your hands clean. In other words, your position depended on you keeping others down and inferior to you if you were a Pharisee. And this is why Jesus chastises them for not lifting a finger to help the others with their burden. It was this sort of hypocrisy that Paul a former Pharisee would understand so well as going along with the requirement to circumcise. It is this sort of thing Paul could point to in Peter to say, you though a Jew live like a  “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14 (ESV)

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