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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

The Day of Pentecost - June 8, 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.


Note: Acts 2:1-21 must be read.
Acts 2:1-21

The day of Pentecost has come; it is now fifty days since Easter. The way Luke puts it shows that Pentecost is a milestone in the story of salvation: recall Luke 2:6, “the time came for her to deliver her child ...” and Luke 9:51, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up ...” These too are milestones, and the language is similar. Other translations have was fulfilled for “had come” (v. 1) – the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilment. Look at the manner in which the Holy Spirit comes: the sound is “like the rush of a violent wind” (v. 2); and then, “divided tongues, as of fire” (v. 3). Luke attempts to describe the event in human terms, but it is never possible to explain a divine mystery: all we can do is say what it is like. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the gift inaugurating the final stage of the salvation story (or history, chronology); this era leads up to the end of time. His arrival is in fulfilment of Christ's promise, recorded in 1:8.

Acts is about mission, about speaking, proclaiming, the good news to people everywhere, in languages (and language) they can understand; Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit is the driving force behind this work, e.g. in the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch, we read “the Spirit said to Philip ...” ( 8:29). They spoke “in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (v. 4). Divided into nations in antiquity, now all humanity is one; now God is in our midst. The Spirit is the launching pad for this mission. The list in vv. 9-10 includes Jews from the whole of the known world. The mission to Gentiles will begin later. “God's deeds of power” (v. 11), of which all spoke, are explained by Peter in vv. 14-36, based on a quotation from the book of Joel (vv. 17-18): as the end of the era in which we are living approaches, many people will prophesy, and many will “see” things beyond what we call concrete reality. And this will happen because God pours out the Holy Spirit. Prophecy here is probably enthusiastically sharing the faith, “speaking about God's deeds of power” (v. 11). The “portents” (v. 19, events that foreshadow the end of the era) are expressed in terms of primitive science but we need to realize that things will happen which make no sense to our rational minds, things we cannot explain.


Numbers

Numbers begins with the first census of Israel, and is named for it. After several chapter containing laws, the narrative section begins in Chapter 9. It follows the people of Israel from near the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula to Moab, east of Palestine, over a period of 38 years. Numbers is not a history in the modern sense but rather a record of how God acted in history: as an indicator of how he would act again on behalf of his people.


Numbers 11:24-30

The people of Israel have left Sinai, and are out in the desert. People on the fringe of the community are complaining to Moses about the diet: manna may be God-given, but it gets monotonous; they remember fondly the meat, fish and vegetables they enjoyed in Egypt (v. 6). They want meat to eat. The rebellion spreads amongst the clans (v. 10). Moses gently chides God for making him the foster-father (“as a nurse carries a sucking child”, v. 12) of these burdensome people. He asks: “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people?” (v. 13) I can't do it alone; the burden is too heavy (v. 14). I would rather die than continue in this misery. God answers: delegate! “Gather ... seventy of the elders” (v. 16). God will take “some of the spirit that is on ... [Moses] and put it on them” (v. 17). They will share the burden, thus sharing authority under God.

When Moses has told the people of his conversation with God, that God will provide sufficient meat for all, he gathers the “seventy” (v. 24) around the Tent of Meeting, the place of worship at the edge of the camp. Now God intervenes in human affairs. (The “cloud”, v. 25, symbolizes his presence.) When God’s spirit comes upon the “seventy” (a number, indicating perfection and completion), they enter a trance-like state; they prophesy. But then they are silent. Then two men, “Eldad and ... Medad” (v. 26, possibly meaning beloved of God), genuine people of Israel (“registered”), not invited to the Tent, prophesy. Joshua seeks to have them stopped, because they have not received authority, but Moses asks Joshua whether he thinks the activities of other prophets will diminish his charisma (“Are you jealous for my sake?”, v. 29). Moses implies that their prophecy is genuine. In the following verses, we learn that the “meat” (v. 13) is quail, diverted from their normal migration path by an unusual west wind.


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 104:24-34,35b

This psalm is a hymn of praise to God, as creator. Earlier verses have praised him for creating the heavens and the earth, for overcoming chaos, for continuing to care for the earth and all who live in it. God’s marvellous “works” (v. 24) are everywhere, all made in his wisdom. To Israelites, “the sea” (v. 25) was almost chaotic, beyond controlling, but God is so great that even “Leviathan” (v. 26), the mythical sea monster, is his harmless, sportive creature. All living things depend on God at all times, for their “food” (v. 27) and their very “breath” (v. 29, life); without it, they die. Lack of God’s presence causes terror. His creative agent is his “spirit” (v. 30). Creation is continuous, continually renewed. The “glory of the Lord” (v. 31) is the magnificence of the created world, his visible manifestation. His power is evident too in earthquakes and volcanoes (v. 32). The psalmist vows to praise God throughout his life. Praise be to God!


1 Corinthians

Corinth was a major port which also commanded the land route from the Peloponnesus peninsula to central Greece. An industrial and ship-building centre, it was also a centre for the arts. Its inhabitants came from far and wide. In this epistle, Paul answers two letters he has received concerning lack of harmony and internal strife in the Corinthian church, a church he had founded. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus (now in Turkey), probably in 57 AD.


1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Early in this letter, Paul has noted that the Christians at Corinth “are not lacking in any spiritual gift” ( 1:7); even so, they appear to have written to him “concerning spiritual gifts” (v. 1): it seems that there are questions in the community. One gift is inspired speech. The tests for whether one speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit are:

  • that one accepts Christ’s authority and pledges obedience to him, “Jesus is Lord” (v. 3) and
  • that one does not curse Jesus (even under duress).
  • Speech that fails these tests is influenced by other (pagan, v. 2) spirits.

    “Gifts” (v. 4) is widely defined, and includes “services” (v. 5, ministries) and “activities” (v. 6, operations). Note the suggestion of the Trinity: “same Spirit ... same Lord ... same God” (vv. 4-6), and note also:

  • the Spirit himself is a gift of the Father;
  • Christ was sent to serve or minister; and
  • the Father is the source of all being and “activities”.
  • With a common origin, all gifts are shown through the Holy Spirit, not for personal edification but “for the common good” (v. 7), for building up the Church. While the gifts in vv. 8-10 can be grouped, the precise meanings are uncertain:

  • “wisdom ... knowledge ... faith”;
  • “healing ... working of miracles ... prophecy”;
  • “discernment ... tongues ... interpretation”.
  • “Wisdom” and “knowledge” seem to be the ability to instruct; “faith” seems to be exceptionally deep faith – that God can do anything. “Discernment” is the ability to tell whether gifts genuinely come from God. “Tongues” may be unintelligible speech which needs “interpretation”. Each of us receives a gift (perhaps not one listed); God chooses, not us. Finally, likening the Church to a “body” (v. 12), Christ’s body, Paul says that:

  • our God-given gifts contribute to the Church as a whole;
  • baptism is through the “Spirit” (v. 13); and
  • regardless of ethnic origin or social status, we are all empowered by the Holy Spirit.

  • 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 20:19-23

    Early on Easter Day, Mary Magdalene has discovered that Jesus’ body is missing from the tomb. There is a man standing nearby, whom she assumes is the gardener. When he speaks to her, she recognizes him as Jesus. She has told the disciples: “I have seen the Lord” (v. 18).

    Jesus now appears to his disciples in his resurrection body: he bears the marks of his crucifixion, yet can pass through doors; he is truly alive. Earlier, he has said “[my] peace I leave with you” ( 14:27). As he has been sent into the world with the Father’s authority, so he now sends out the disciples (and the Church) to continue his work (v. 21). To early Christians, Jesus’ exaltation, his appearances and the giving of the Holy Spirit are one event. Conversion and baptism involve forgiveness of sins; those who reject the good news are not forgiven (“retained”, v. 23).


    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.


    Note: Either John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39 may be read.
    John 7:37-39

    Each day during the “festival” of Booths (Tabernacles), water has been carried from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple, as a reminder of the water which sprang forth from the rock in the wilderness. Jesus now reinterprets the water: he is the “living water” (v. 38); he relieves the thirst of the believer. The Greek translated “the believer's heart” means literally his belly, i.e. his very being. Who is he? Either “the one who believes” or Jesus is intended. In v. 39, John says that the “living water” is “the [Holy] Spirit”. “As yet there was no Spirit” caused theological difficulties for early interpreters and translators; some appended given. (The text as we have it appears to be original.) The Holy Spirit, existing since before time (as stated elsewhere in the book), will come to believers when Jesus has died, risen and ascended (“glorified”). They will receive the Spirit, and make it available to others. (The quotation is not in the Old Testament.)

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