Lectionary Year B
May 7, 2000
Acts 3:12-19

Hermeneutical Bridge


A week and a half ago, thirty-nine members of the cult group Heaven's Gate committed ritual mass suicide, most likely with the largest death count of an event of this kind in the U.S. in this century. Marshall Herff Applewhite, a former Presbyterian preacher's son from Texas and leader of the religious sect, convinced his "disciples" that a spaceship was hidden in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. This spacecraft, directed by aliens, would take up the "believers" to a "Higher Level of Human" and fly them away to a better place. Applewhite gave himself the name "Do" in order to show that names "mean nothing." Thirty-nine people followed the calling of this name in expectation of a better world, a certain kind of salvation. A self-proclaimed modern day Christ-like figure, Applewhite promised healing and life. But what his disciples found were only destruction and death. He even prophesied his resurrection after a few days, yet nobody has seen him up and walking.

This tragic contemporary event made me wonder, in light of Acts 3:11-21: What's in a name? Does the name of v. 16 "mean nothing," or does it mean something? What does it mean? Granted, Jesus did not talk to his disciples about UFO's, spaceships and aliens, but He did speak about salvation, death, and resurrection. It seems to me that Jesus and Applewhite appear to make similar claims. I believe that we cannot avoid asking these questions and look very intently at the similarities between the two, and at their differences. Scripture reminds us to do exactly that, because many false messiahs will come, and it is their spirits that we need to test.

[JEA - what would be some of the similarities and differences if one were to cross the bridge back and forth between the cult event and other contemporary quaestors approaching the year 2000 and the particulars of this text? other helpful Easter/post-Easter texts?].

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