I’ve never celebrated Sukkot. Have you? Honest question. Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve ever celebrated it. And if you don’t know what it is, you’ve almost certainly never celebrated it, because it’s not the sort of holiday you’d observe by accident. It’s the Jewish Feast of Booths, and according to the instructions in Leviticus 23:33-43, it lasts eight days, and it requires you to build and live in a temporary shelter, the titular “sukkah.” It also requires you to take leafy branches and rejoice before the Lord. I doubt you’ve ever said to yourself, “Whoops! I just built a booth with at least three walls and a thatched roof and lived in it for seven days, holding a sacred assembly for the Lord on the eighth, and all week long I accidentally rejoiced with leafy branches and presented food offerings to the Lord,” but…where was I going with this? I honestly don’t know. Let’s find out.
What is bread? The question has hounded philosophers and–wait, what? I’ve used that introduction already? What am I supposed to do for an intro? We’re going to be talking about Jesus’ use of bread as a spiritual metaphor again, and I need to create an engaging first paragraph to draw in readers! Oh, what’s that? Contrive a dialogue with an imaginary, unseen interlocutor who brings up the fact that I’ve already used the “What is bread?” introduction and posits an alternative? Seems a bit gimmicky. Do you have any better ideas? No? Neither do I. Okay, we’ll go with it. And with that out of the way, let’s talk about bread.
As many of you know, that well-worn Bible from the photos with the occasional handwritten marginal notes is my dad’s. He’s had it for nearly as long as I can remember; the date in the front cover is 8/28/88. I was five then. I used to look at the maps in the back, with their bright colors tracing out the boundaries of geopolitical regions and the travels of Christ and Paul. Much of their information went right over my elementary-school head, but now I’m older and wiser, or at least better educated, and for today’s chapter, those maps might conceivably come in handy. Paul connects with Barnabas and gets his first major missionary voyage underway, and two major events occur at Paphos on the island of Cyprus and on the mainland at Pisidian Antioch.
In today’s chapter, Peter deals with the fallout from his acceptance of Cornelius as a fellow follower of Christ, and the obvious place to go with it is that racism and religious bigotry have no place in the church. But as true as that is, I don’t want to co-opt the passage or use it as a soapbox to make my own points. Furthermore, there are some peculiarities in Peter’s interactions with the other Jewish Christians here, so let’s trade our broad brush for the detail one as we dig in.
If you were reading through the New Testament in canonical order, starting with Matthew and ending with Revelation, then Acts 8 would be the last you’d see of Philip. Even in the first half of the chapter, he ends up leaving the limelight as Peter handles Simon the Ex-Sorcerer’s attempt to purchase distribution rights to the Holy Spirit. But in the latter half of the chapter, Philip gets a solo adventure and an opportunity to do some big kingdom work, and it all starts with an angel and a eunuch.
Do you remember that scene in The Prince of Egypt where Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the wilderness? He goes to stop one of the taskmasters from beating a Hebrew slave, but accidentally sends the taskmaster plummeting off a scaffolding and kills him. Everyone sees the event, and Moses runs away into the desert. It’s a dramatic scene, but as it does elsewhere, the movie takes some liberties with the text it’s interpreting. It differs starkly from both the original account in Exodus and Stephen’s interpretation of it in his speech before the Council in Jerusalem.
In today’s chapter, a good deed goes unpunished, but only barely.