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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 6, 2012



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 8:26-40

We are in the part of Acts where Luke (the author) tells of the spread of the good news to non-Jews in the Middle East. He has just told us about carrying the gospel to Samaria. Jews rejected Samaritans because they had a different principal place of worship and scriptural tradition. Now we hear of the conversion of another outcast, a eunuch. Per Deuteronomy 23:1, a eunuch could not be “admitted to the assembly of the LORD”. The eunuch is from Ethiopia, now northern Sudan – on the extreme limits of the known world.

“An angel”, an agent of God, instructs Philip to seek out the eunuch. “Gaza” is near the Egyptian border, on the Mediterranean. “Candace” (v. 27) is the queen’s title; the eunuch is her finance minister. He is probably an admirer of Judaism. In the ancient world, people always read aloud, so Philip “heard him reading” (v. 30). The eunuch is reading part of a Servant Song, i.e. Isaiah 53:7-8 (vv. 32-33). Jesus was “silent” (v. 32) at his Passion. “Generation” (v. 33) is probably taken as referring to Jesus’ contemporaries, some of whom put him to death. Philip proclaims the “good news” (v. 35) to the eunuch by showing how the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ. (Most texts of this story lack v. 37, the eunuch’s confession of faith, as does the NRSV: it was probably added later.) Philip baptises him, but Luke does not mention the coming of the Holy Spirit on him: to Luke, the Spirit comes in the context of the community, the Church. Philip is spirited away, as was Elijah in 2 Kings 2. Philip finds himself at “Azotus” (v. 40, also known as Ashdod), a port, and entry point to the wider Roman world. He proclaims the good news throughout the Palestinian coastal “region”, a Gentile area, as he travels home, to “Caesarea”.


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 22:23-31

This psalm, as a whole, is a prayer for deliverance from illness. The psalmist, gravely ill, feels that God has forsaken him. In the past, God has helped his people (vv. 4-5): may God help him now. His detractors laugh at him for trusting in God (vv. 6-8); his suffering is worse because they think that his illness is proof of God’s displeasure. But, he says, God helped me when I was an infant, so I trust in him (v. 9). I will offer thanksgiving in assembly of the community in the Temple: v. 22 is that vow. God does hear, even the “poor” (v. 26, or afflicted); he provides perpetual life for the “poor” those who live in awe of him. May all people everywhere turn to God and worship him (v. 27). God is Lord of all (v. 28). All mortals, all who die (“go down to the dust”, v. 29) worship him. I, the psalmist says, will live following his ways, and so will my offspring: they will be God’s for ever, and will tell future generations about God’s saving deeds.


1 John

This epistle was addressed to a general audience, unlike those written by Paul. It shares a style, phrases and expressions with the Gospel according to John, so it is very likely that both were written by the same person. It appears to have been circulated to various churches. The author seeks to combat heresy, specifically that the spirit is entirely good but matter is entirely evil. John tells his readers that morality and ethical behaviour are important for Christians.


1 John 4:7-21

In earlier chapters, the author has stressed two signs of fellowship with God: faith in Christ and love of fellow Christians. In vv. 1-6, the author contrasts the work of the Holy Spirit with that of other supernatural powers (working through false teachers): the Holy Spirit inspires confession of who Christ really is: he has come from God, to be truly human. The author has told his Christian readers: you “are from God” (v. 6).

Our passage can be summed up in three words: “God is love” (vv. 8, 16). This love originates in God; this is the kind of love we have for each other. Being lovers, we are God’s children and we love him (v. 7). If we don’t actively love, we don’t know God – because the very nature of God “is love” (v. 8). God’s greatest expression of love for us, the Church, was sending “his only Son” (v. 9) into the far-from-perfect “world”, thereby giving us a path to godly living (“atoning sacrifice”, v. 10). God took this initiative, this action restoring us to unity with him. So we have a duty to love “one another” (v. 11). It is only through Christ that we can see the Father (v. 12a). The flip side is: if we love our fellows, God (love) is “in us”: fraternal love completes (“is perfected”, v. 12) God’s.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is proof that we and God are inter-related (v. 13). Part of this is witnessing and believing who Christ is (v. 14). Being thus in love has a consequence: we need not fear judgement at the end of the era; fear and “punishment” (v. 18) are incompatible: God’s “love casts out fear”. We are called to love both God and are fellows; it is impossible to love our fellows and not God, or God and not our fellows (vv. 20-21).


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 15:1-8

Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when he will no longer be physically with them. He has said: “... I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples ...” (13:34-35).

In our reading, he probably has in mind the judgement on Judah in Isaiah 5:1-7: God has lovingly prepared a vineyard for the people, but the vines yielded “wild grapes”, so God destroyed the vineyard. In John, God is the “vinegrower” (v. 1), Christ the vine, and members of the Church the fruit. Jesus says that he is the “true” (godly) vine, the one of whom Isaiah spoke. He is the Father’s agent. Followers who are ineffective will be cut off, but those who are productive will be aided by God’s power (v. 2). V. 3 may allude to Jesus’ washing the disciple’s feet: in 13:10, he tells the disciples that they are now clean: they have been cleansed by his revelation of God. Shared life with each other and with God is the basis for being fruitful (v. 5b). Leaving this community ends productivity, and leads to destruction and damnation (“thrown into the fire”, v. 6). If they remain in unity with him, whatever they ask in prayer will be granted (v. 7). God’s power and authority are shown forth (“glorified”, v. 8) in the bearing of fruit, doing in Christ’s name. The disciples represent Jesus in the world.

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