Acts 1,15-26 - Leadership in the Community
Acts 1: 15-26
Leadership in the Community
Leadership in this post-Easter community is the concern the rest of chapter one. The community which gathers to w and to pray is an unusual one-a fact attested by Luke's parenthetical mention in 1:14 of women who had been with jesus since Galilee (Luke 8:2; 23:49, 55; 24:10-11) and of Jesu mother and brothers. The inclusion of women in the roster of the community would not have been missed by a secondcentury reader, as an indication that already we have a group which breaks barriers.
Furthermore, we have a thoroughly Jewish community which has a mission to the house of Israel. In Luke 9:1-6, the Twelve were sent to Israel. Jesus promised that these Twelve would sit upon thrones judging the twelve tribes (Luke 22:2830). The twelve tribes must have twelve witnesses, thus the concern within this section to find a replacement for the traitor, Judas.
The number one hundred and twenty also figures prominently in the mission to Israel. According to Jewish law one hundred and twenty males were required to form a synagogue with its own council-already the disciples have enough people to form a legitimate community. All is done in faithfulness to
judiasm, says Luke.
When Peter stands to speak (vv. 16-22), his speech, like all of those in Acts, is designed for Luke's readers. We are not reading a verbatim eye-witness record of Peter's speech. Peter quotes from the Greek Septuagint, the Scripture of Greekspeaking Jews-even translating "Alkaldama" for them, as if his audience would not know Aramaic, the language of the original Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem. So the interpretive issue cannot be the historical, Did Peter really say these words in this way? but the homiletical question, Through this speech, what is Luke trying to say to his readers in a community of a much later time than that of Peter? as well as the narrative question, How does this speech contribute to the plot or movement of the story of Acts?
The speech is comprised of two parts, each set off by forms of the Greek dei, "it is necessary" (vv. 16,21). Everything that happens does so as a necessary fulfillment of Scripture and the purposes of God (cf. 4:12; 5:29; Luke 2:49; 4:43; 12:12; 13:14). Even tragic events, such as the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, can be caught up in the movement of God's purposes. Judas betrayed Jesus by collaborating with those who put him to death. Now, whereas Christ has gone up to rule with God, Judas has gone "to his own place" (1:25). Judas, even though he "was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry" (1:17), fell away and received his just fate (1:18-20).
The church then prays that new leadership may come forward from the community, a process characteristic of other occasions when the church seeks divine guidance (e.g., 1:14; 4:31; 9:1 1; 10:2; 12:5; 13:3). The election of Matthias gives Luke the opportunity to define who an apostle is (1:21-22), a definition which Paul would not share. An apostle is someone who is among the Twelve, someone who had been with Jesus from the "baptism of John until the day he was taken up" into heaven.
The apostolic circle is drawn only from eyewitnesses who can give a reliable account of the Jesus-event (Luke 1: 1-4). This concern for first-hand witness is Luke's way of guaranteeing the authenticity of his account. When Luke speaks of "disciples" he is speaking of all Christians, in distinction from the Twelve (cf. Luke 6: 1; 9: l)-unlike the way Matthew and Mark use the term. The Twelve he calls "apostles." In a time when there is great skepticism about our ability to recover any reliable facts about "the historical Jesus" and diverse theologies of this or that attempt to enlist a fancifully reconstructed Jesus to back up their ideologies, we do well to consider the importance of Luke's stress upon eyewitnesses as reliable bearers of the "facts." The "facts" of the Jesus-event are not so amorphous as to enable us to make Jesus and his good news mean anything we please (the peril of all forms of Gnosticism). We must attend to the story. While the witnesses do not tell us everything that we might like to know about Jesus and his message, they do give an "accurate and orderly account" to judge contemporary interpretations.
Matthias becomes part of the Twelve and the number is once again complete. Leadership in this new community is based both on qualification (vv. 21-22), and on divine choice (v. 24). It is derived both from "the bottom up"-from the ranks of those persons whom the prayerful community chooses to lead-and from the "top down"-as a gift of a gracious God who does not leave his community bereft of the guidance it needs to fulfill its mission. Leadership is not an optional matter for the community nor is it some later invention foisted upon a once free and democratic church by authoritarians seeking power. Valid leaders link the church to the events which originated the church and become, by their own work and witness, the means by which the church fulfills its mission.
At this point leadership in the church seems to be defined in terms of witness-the apostle is someone who has seen and heard something, a witness to the resurrection who now witnesses to others. Like Peter, the apostle testifies to what has happened so that it may continue to happen within the church.
Yet, Peter's speech reminds us that what has happened up to this point in the story includes both apostleship and apostasy. Far from painting some idealized portrait of how wonderful everything was for the apostles, Luke places Peter's speech about Judas at the beginning as a somber reminder that traitors were among the ranks of the disciples from the first. In fact the first speech within the post-Easter community is made by the one who also fled in the darkness and loudly denied his Lord when confronted by the maid (Luke 22:56-62). Infidelity first occurs among those who presume to lead. There is no deceit or betrayal encountered among the church's pagan despisers or its unbelieving Jewish kin that has not been first experienced in its own ranks. Jesus had warned of the possibility of betrayal (Luke 12:8-12; 22:31-34). The church has no cause for conceit at this point, for Luke has reminded us, even before the story of empowerment begins, that a disciple, one privileged to witness the whole Christ-event from the first, can and had betrayed his Lord. No scorn for later despisers -of the gospel, no judgment upon later infidels, can match the sober, gruesomely detailed picture of the end of Judas or the irony that the one who speaks of Judas did himself deny and curse his own Master.
The church meets no failure or deceit in the world that it has not first encountered in itself-even among those who founded and led the very first congregation.