I subscribe to the digital edition of several national newspapers. The editorial policies of the newspapers vary widely. All of the newspapers seem convinced that the survival and future prosperity of the nation is threatened by the current state of national politics, but none of them agree on the nature of the threat.
The editors of one newspaper think the current administration is the source of the nation’s problems. Another thinks the previous administration is the source of all our national problems. The editorial board of a third newspaper blames foreign governments for our domestic challenges.
Like those newspaper editors, all of us probably have a villain or villains in mind when we read the line in today’s first reading that says, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40) It’s easy enough to assert that the world in which we live is gravely burdened by corruption, but like those newspaper editors, it’s not so easy to identify the source of the corruption.
For some readers, the “corrupt generation” at fault for the world’s ills consists of industrialists, bankers, advertisers and the like. Others would like to be able to flee the “corrupt generation” which demands trigger warnings be written into the syllabus of every college course. Some consider government to be corrupt; others consider religion to be corrupt.
Each of us has firmly held beliefs about what’s wrong with the world, and most of us are convinced that we know how to correct what’s wrong with the world. I’d like to add one further complication to the scapegoating and problem-solving that all of us enjoy so much.
None of the worries and complaints that appear in news reporting, or in our solving of the world’s problems, were what the author of the Acts of the Apostles intended when he wrote, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40) In this speech delivered by Peter at the Pentecost feast in Jerusalem the admonition to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40), had a meaning unrelated to politics, social welfare or economic issues.
This speech in the Acts was addressed to the people living in Jerusalem, many of whom had been involved directly in Jesus’ unjust trial and crucifixion. However, the appellation “corrupt generation” did not refer only to those who had accused and murdered Jesus.
Throughout the Scriptures there are references to the ungodly, the unbelieving and the unjust. Moses, the Judges and all the Hebrew prophets made repeated calls to repentance directed to those who had wandered away from God. Their call to proper faith and worship was not limited only to the Israelites. The holy men and prophets in the Scriptures all looked forward to a time when the gentiles would abandon idolatry to worship the One, True God.
The “corrupt generation” is not only our generation. It was not only those who rejected Jesus or those who failed to be faithful to the covenant with Moses. The “corrupt generation” that Peter urged his hearers to escape is the human tendency to faithlessness. For this reason, the Scriptures have proclaimed perennially a call to repentance and renewed faith. Every generation and every individual has the potential to fall into the corruption of faithlessness.
The Scriptures don’t allow us to take refuge in facile condemnations of those whom we’d like to blame for the world’s ills. Rather, the Scriptures confront us with a truly disturbing reality. The “corrupt generation” is each of us, and all of us, when we fall into the trap of thinking that we know how to remedy the world’s ills.
The greatest act of faithlessness is the self-righteousness which leads us to believe that we understand fully what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it. To diagnose the world’s corruption, and offer a remedy, is tantamount to making ourselves into our own gods.
Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t merely an expression of God’s concern or good will toward humanity. Jesus’ death and resurrection was a necessity; it was a necessity precisely because we are incapable of saving ourselves or our world.
The salvation from corruption that the Scriptures describe begins with our recognition that salvation comes only from Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our participation in that salvation, our responsibility in the work of avoiding corruption, is to follow Jesus’ teaching.
There is a remedy for what’s wrong with the world. There is also a remedy for what’s wrong with the Church. The same remedy provides healing for what’s wrong with each of us. The remedy for corruption is hearing the Gospel proclamation, and trusting in God’s will to save the world.