Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 25, 2014



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Acts

This book is the sequel to the gospel according to Luke. Beginning with Jesus' ascension, Luke tells the story of the beginnings of the church. By no means a comprehensive history, it does however describe the spread of the church from Jerusalem to all of Palestine, and as far as Greece. The episodes he reports show how Christianity arose out of Judaism. He shows us something of the struggles the church underwent in accepting Gentiles as members. The Holy Spirit guides and strengthens the church as it spreads through much of the Roman Empire.


Acts 17:22-31

On his second missionary journey, Paul has crossed Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and has arrived in Athens, a city known for its interest in the divine and its openness to discussion of philosophies and religions. He argues for Christianity in the synagogue and in the marketplace. Epicurean and Stoic philosophers see him as dabbling in philosophy and proclaiming “foreign divinities” (v. 18), of Jesus and the resurrection (possibly thought by them to be a god). He is invited to join in philosophical discussions at the “Areopagus” (v. 19) on edge of the marketplace. He presents the good news to a people of a culture very different from the one in which it was first proclaimed. He explains it in their terms.

After praising the Athenians for their piety and gods (“objects of your worship”, v. 23), he draws attention to an altar to “‘an unknown god’”. He tells them: I know that god; he is God; he “made the world ...” (v. 24) and is “Lord” of it. He depends on nothing (“as though ...”, v. 25), so he is greater than all Greek gods; he is the source of all (“gives ... life”). Not being confined to specific “shrines” (v. 24) and needing no sacrifices (“nor ... served ...”, v. 25) shows his greatness. God created “all nations” (v. 26) from proto-human, Adam (“one ancestor”): Stoics too believed in the unity of humanity. Deuteronomy 32:8 says that God “fixed the boundaries of the peoples”; dividing history into eras is basic to faith (v. 26b). The Greeks thought of the seasons of nature’s cycles and the earth’s habitable zones. They searched and groped for God (v. 27); we go further: we find, obey and serve him.

Paul now quotes Greek writers in defence of his arguments (v. 28). For “God's offspring” (v. 29) idols are inadequate objects of worship; only the true God, the creator of heaven and earth and of all lower orders of spiritual being, is worthy of our worship and service. Jesus has brought an era when turning to God is imperative; “ignorance” (v. 30) of his ways is no longer acceptable – because God will have Jesus (“a man”, v. 31) judge people’s worthiness. This we know because he has raised Jesus. Raising “a man” to divine status is hard for Paul’s hearers to accept. Some are open to further discussion but others are not (v. 32).


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 66:8-18

“All the earth” (v. 1, not only Israel) is invited to join in praising God, seen as powerful in his “deeds” (v. 3). Throughout history he has done great things “among mortals” (v. 5). His rule is world-wide, over all “the nations” (v. 7). Vv. 8-12 are a communal thanksgiving. God preserves us in life (v. 9a); he protects us. In past difficulties he has “tested us” (v. 10), purifying us as “silver” ore is changed to pure silver. Israel has been subjugated by other people (perhaps during the Exile), yet after enduring every kind of difficulty (“through fire and ... water”, v. 12), God has brought her to freedom again. In vv. 13-20, an individual (perhaps the king) vows to offer sacrifice in the Temple in thanks. He invites the community to hear “what [God] ... has done for me” (v. 16). He was repentant so God listened to him (v. 19) and has heeded his requests made in prayer. “Blessed be God” (v. 20) for hearing and for his covenant (“steadfast”) love.


1 Peter

An elder in Rome wrote this pastoral exhortation to those in charge of churches in Asia Minor. ("Babylon" is a common code-name for Rome; see Revelation 17:5-6.) The opening greeting claims that Peter is the author, but today most scholars agree that it was written in his name, to give it authority (a common practice at that time.) The addressees appear to be Gentiles, rural folk, both resident aliens and household slaves, in Asia Minor. Christians can expect to suffer, to be ostracized, to be "called names": they are in the midst of a pagan culture. Though they are "aliens" in this world, God has given them "a new birth ... into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" (1:3-4).


1 Peter 3:13-22

The author has noted the persecution being endured by his readers; now he treats the topic explicitly. Who will weaken you in your faith or cause you to lose it? (v. 13) As v. 16 (“when you are maligned”) shows “if” (v. 14) is an understatement: when is meant. Suffering for good conduct puts you in a happy and fortunate (“blessed”) state with God. Reverence for God should transcend all fears. Be prepared to defend your commitment to Christ, and your faith (“hope”, v. 15) in him, to anyone who asks. Continue to live ethical, godly lives (“keep your conscience clear”, v. 16) so that your persecutors may be shamed (and desist from harrowing you). It is morally “better” (v. 17) to suffer for doing God’s will.

Christ, “the righteous” (v. 18), is your example of suffering; he brings you to God. He really died (“in the flesh”), but he overcame death. Even the condemnation carried out in the Flood is overcome by the power of the gospel, for Jesus proclaimed it (while dead) to the wayward dead (“spirits in prison ... who did not obey”, vv. 19-20), so that their fate might be reversed. (See also 4:6.) The saving of Noah and his family (“eight persons”, v. 20) “through water”is the forerunner of baptism. It saves not by ritual cleansing (“removal of dirt”, v. 21) but rather by putting you in a state to be found worthy at the Last Day (“appeal”), sharing as we do in Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ is now in heaven, where heavenly powers (“angels ...”, v. 22) are subject to him.


Symbol of St John

John

John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


John 14:15-21

Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for his departure. He has given them a special commandment: to “love one another” just as he has loved them ( 13:34). Love requires obedience and (v. 21) those who love him are those who obey. Keeping Jesus’ commandments makes possible the continuance of their relationship with him – but how? The Father will send them “another” (v. 16) representative of God, also in God, as their “Advocate” or champion: one who will support, help and intercede for them. This is the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (v. 17), of faith, of revealed doctrine. He is neither perceivable nor knowable by unbelievers, so they have no access to him. But “you” both recognize (“know”) him, because he will be within you and will remain (abide ) in you. Jesus will come to you in the Spirit (v. 18). After Jesus’ death, unbelievers will not perceive him, but you will; because he lives (in a special way), so will you (v. 19). When he returns at the end of this era (v. 20), you will recognize that you have been taken into intimate association with both the Father and the Son. But (v. 21) this will only be so for followers who have divine love and show it by obeying me. Only to them will Jesus, the risen Christ, appear.

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