My husband and I recently adopted a cat named Grace. One thing I learned in the process is that in the internet age you can look at profiles of cats up for adoption. Rescue organizations and pet foster families post photos, health histories, and little blurbs about personalities and behavior. Reading through them, which I did for several months before we found Grace, is a study in contrasts. One profile might say, “This is the best cat ever! She gets along with all our other animals, including our giant iguana, and will sit in your lap and purr for hours. She even lets our three year old grab her tail without a fuss!” And then another will say, “This shy kitty has had a hard life, and needs a lot of love to come out of his shell. He likes to hide under the bed, but we think with the right, quiet environment he’ll learn to trust his humans and be an independent and curious addition to your family. He would prefer to be your only pet.”
For what it’s worth, we chose Grace because she was described as “snuggly,” and because in the middle of a pandemic we were looking for grace wherever we could get it!
I was thinking about those cat profiles as I studied our scriptures this week. These lectionary texts from Acts and John are a similar study in contrasts. In John, the disciples are reeling from the crucifixion of Jesus, traumatized and afraid, and struggling to make sense of the reports that Jesus has been seen. Fear has driven them to hide behind locked doors. Some have seen Jesus, some have not. It’s not clear what’s just happened, or what they’re supposed to do next.
By the time we get to Acts, which we can presume doesn’t take place much more than a year or two later, the same disciples are running a Christian base community — reportedly of thousands of people — complete with worship and prayer, health care and healing, shared property, and resources for all in need. Even more stunning, this community is described by the writer of Acts as being “of one heart and soul,” unified by the presence of the Holy Spirit and the power of the resurrection.
So this week I’ve been struck by the juxtaposition of these texts. The images, so vividly painted, drawn us to the intriguing details: In John, the fear and the locked doors; Jesus’s sudden, almost magical appearance; his breath of the Spirit; the plain refusal of Thomas to believe; the particulars of the wounds of spear and nail. And in Acts, a unity of heart and soul, followers selling their land and homes, the absence of any in need, the disciples’ distribution of resources like a modern food bank or clothes closet, the lack of private ownership of anything. (I have to admit some skepticism about that last one, because who wants to share underpants?)
These texts also juxtapose emotions: the trauma and fear of the disciples locked in a room, wondering what to do and what to believe. Yes, there is some rejoicing, but the story feels overshadowed by wariness, bafflement, and plain confusion and shock over all that has happened. By contrast, the Acts text feels like a fulfillment: the triumph of generosity and caring and love for others; the release of greed and fear and guardedness. It feels open, and alive. I picture the disciples in John in a dark room of shadows, with maybe a lone candle or oil lamp on a dusty table. I picture the disciples in Acts on a sunny hillside, with birdsong and music, like a big church picnic.
We could look at these two communities as a linear progression — the disciples in John are just getting their bearings and just catching their breath from the horror of those days. Of course they locked the doors. Of course they were afraid of the authorities who had just executed their teacher. Of course they were disbelieving — or at least skeptical — of secondhand accounts from their friends who claim to have seen Jesus. The disciples in Acts have had time to process all this trauma, to move forward into what it