In Rev. Ed Hays' classic work, "Twelve And One-Half Keys," the devil confronts a young man one night in a movie theater parking lot. To the man's amazement, Satan isn't interested in buying his soul; he wants to buy his "Dream."
"If I were to obtain your soul," the devil explains, "I would have just a soul, but if I am able to purchase -- at a fair price, mind you -- your Dream, then I have changed the course of history! Your soul affects only you, but your Dream -- ah, that's something different. Your Dream touches the lives of countless people, and who knows, maybe people yet to be born? The effect of your Dream is cosmic, and that's why I am interested in it."
The authors of Sunday's three readings understand Father Hays' insight into the importance of one's Dreams. Though at times we miss the writers' intent, Scripture always deals with Dreams.
The first reading (Acts 2:42-47) contains the first of Luke's three "summaries:" reviews of the early Church's activities placed at strategic spots in the work's first five chapters. Each describes a perfect, faithful, loving Christian community.
"They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers....All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need."
There's one basic problem with this picture: It doesn't correspond to the image of early Christian communities which we find in Paul's letters, especially the Church described in I Corinthians 11. Since a contemporary writing usually is historically more accurate than a writing composed 50 years later, the first followers of Jesus probably didn't live as idyllic an existence as Luke would have us believe.
Scholars claim that Luke used his summaries not as a reflection on the past, but as a way to convey his dreams for the future. His descriptions of the early Jerusalem Church expresses his dream for all Christian communities.
In a similar but more evident way, the unknown author of I Peter tries to plant his dream of faith in the hearts of newly baptized Christians (I Peter 1:3-9). "Although you have not seen Him (Jesus)," he writes, "you love Him; even though you do not see Him now, yet you believe in Him. You rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy because you are achieving faith's goal, your salvation."
Since faith involves reaching out to achieve something we don't already have, biblical authors always remind their communities of the importance of maintaining their faith-dreams in environments which could destroy them. John, for instance, closes the original edition of his Gospel with Sunday's well-known "doubting Thomas" story, precisely because we live our faith not against the background of the historical, visible Jesus, but in the world of the resurrected, unseen Jesus (Jn 20:19-31).
John's key statement is, "You became a believer because you saw me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed." In other words: "blest are those who keep striving to attain their 'Dream' even when they have difficulty experiencing both the Dream and the original Dreamer."
Such encouragement is essential, especially for those who try to reach the core of John's Dream, the action which Jesus' disciples are most expected to imitate: His forgiveness. "If you forgive someone's sins," Jesus reminds His followers, "they are forgiven; if you hold them bound, they are held bound."
Before we hear these words only as a proof-text for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we should listen to them as John's community originally heard them: Jesus encouraging His disciples to strive to do what He did. Students of John's Gospel presume Jesus isn't telling us that we're to forgive some people but not others. He simply wants His followers to reflect on their great power. Those who share in Jesus' Dream of one family and one community will constantly forgive all and everyone.
Following Father Hays' insight, any limit or condition that we place on forgiveness must be regarded as a sign the devil has stolen Jesus' Dream from us.