By The Rev. Dr. Victoria Marie
The liturgical season of Easter is the only time that our readings are all from the New Testament. During this season the first readings are from the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s reading from Acts is another occasion where our Roman Catholic Lectionary differs from the Revised Common Lectionary and omits scripture verses. This textual omission significantly changes the meaning and therefore our understanding of the scriptural message.
Today’s reading is from Chapter 3 of Acts, some of the beginning verses were read last week. In it there is a cripple beggar outside the temple, where Peter and John are about to enter. Peter tells the beggar, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you.” Peter then cures the man in Jesus’ name. Then we are told the man jumped and began to walk “and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”
People swarmed around the three of them, the beggar, John and Peter as they entered the temple portico called Solomon’s Portico. Peter addressed the people telling them that it is not by his own power that the cripple man was healed. It is here were today’s reading begins. The point of what Peter is saying is not to lay a guilt trip on the people. Rather, it is to let them know that it was in the name of Jesus, whom they crucified that the man was healed. The omitted verse states: “And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.”
It is after this statement that Peter lets them know that he understands that they and their rulers acted in ignorance. The last part of today’s reading cuts the scripture verse off part way through a sentence. In its entirety, it reads: “19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.”
I said textual omissions change the meaning and therefore our understanding of the scriptural message and it does. Without the left out verses, the message is “you are guilty of collaboration in the crucifixion of Jesus, you are sinful, repent.” When the passage is read as it is written, the message is “even the name of Jesus can make you whole” and God has promised “times of refreshing and universal restoration to wholeness.” Now that is not to say that we do not need to repent. However, we must look at the words repent and repentance. The words come from the Hebrew concept of Teshuva. The concept of Teshuva was mistranslated into the Latin word poenitire, which means “make sorry” and Christians have been bearing the brunt of that mistranslation ever since.
… The Hebrew word for make sorry is Charatah and not Teshuva. Teshuva is commonly understood as the act of turning over a new leaf, when someone has made a mistake in life and after coming to the realization that he has erred, he commits himself to change and become a new person. This explains why the word repentance is used as a translation of Teshuva. However, the real concept of Teshuva is not a process of changing ourselves but rather a process of returning to our true selves. The core of every person is good and it is only a superficial reflection of the self when a person behaves inappropriately, the solution to any momentary lapse is not to transform oneself into something else but rather to revert back to our default state of goodness. (Source)
Another result of the textual omission is that it makes it easy for us to forget the universal aspect of God’s promise of restoration. In God’s eyes, the destiny of humans and the destiny every living creature are intertwined. If we look at the book of Genesis, we see that all of creation was affected by the actions of humans. Adam and Eve were not expelled from the Garden of Eden alone, the animals were also ejected. Likewise, in the Noah’s Ark story, representatives of every living creature as well as representatives of humanity (Noah and his family) were taken aboard the Ark. Was God’s promise to never again destroy the inhabitants of Earth by flood also the implicit request for us not to destroy the Earth? Is the concept of Teshuva telling us that to return to our own true selves we must work to restore creation to the health and beauty of its own true self? If so, we must love our neighbour, including the Earth, air, waters and all her creatures enough to work tirelessly for their return to health and protect them from further danger.
In telling you all this, I’m trying to spread the good news by letting you know that today’s first reading is not a message that is stuck in the crucifixion, not stuck in empty sorrow. Rather, it is like the cripple man, who took Peter’s hand, repentance means an acceptance of God’s invitation to be restored, refreshed and made whole by the way we love our neighbours and by the way live our lives.
Victoria Marie is co-founder of the Vancouver Catholic Worker, on unceded Coast Salish Territory. She is a priest, spiritual director, and pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin Roman Catholic Women Church Community and author of Transforming Addiction: The role of spirituality in learning recovery from addiction (Scholars Press, 2014). This reflection is a shared or dialogue homily where Vikki gives a short “homily starter” then those present offer their reflections.
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.