The Trouble with Kindness in the Acts of the Apostles
AbstractThis article explores the theme of kindness in the book of Acts. Following Pentecost, the first act of kindness leads to the first act of persecution. Peter heals a man crippled from birth and charges his accusers of indicting him for “an act of kindness” (4:8-10). The story puts Peter and the earliest church in a positive light while simultaneously critiquing the religious and political establishment. Acts of kindness usher various disciples into the realm of spiritual warfare, and evil forces attempt to thwart the good deeds of the church at every turn. Peter describes Jesus as “doing good and healing all oppressed by the devil” (10:38). Thus, acts of kindness become a gateway into the spiritual battle. Luke's term translated as "kindness" is εὐεργεσίᾳ (“benefaction”), a technical word embedded in social structure that depicts financial support for persons and groups; those who benefit from benefactors promise their loyalty to them. The Apostles assume the role of benefactors as they follow in the footsteps of Jesus and have a dramatic impact on society for the greater good. But, unlike Roman benefactors, they expect nothing in return. What the Apostles offer in contrast to the quid pro quo demands of benefactors is restoration of life. They declare this restoration in temple courts where the disciples become the new authority figures while testifying to “new life.” There disciples enter and authoritatively occupy sacred space while religious and civic leaders seek to obstruct them. Kindness may be the most powerful force in the world. It can harden or soften people’s hearts. Kindness can reach the heights of heaven and knock on the gates of hell.