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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

The Day of Pentecost - May 27, 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.


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 had been fulfilled for “had come” – 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. 9-11 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.


Ezekiel

Ezekiel was a prophet and a priest. His ministry began before the conquest of Judah in 587 BC, and continued in exile in Babylon. This book is the foundation for both Jewish and Christian visionary or apocalyptic literature, e.g. Revelation (or The Apocalypse.) It is a book that contains many strange things (strange because we do not understand them, e.g. Ezekiel eating a scroll), but the prophet's message to the exiles is clear: he assures his hearers of God's abiding presence among them, and he emphasizes God's involvement in the events of the day, so that Israel and all nations "will know that I am the Lord". For the first time, we see the importance of the individual in his relationship to God. To a dispersed and discouraged people, he brings a message of hope: hope that God will restore them to their homeland and the temple.


Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel wrote this passage after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Judah had suffered the shame of conquest; even the Temple lay in ruins. Vv. 2-10 are a fantastic vision, or dream – in an age when dreams were sometimes prophetic. The Spirit of God beams the prophet to a valley “full of bones”, (v. 1) a scene reminiscent of the aftermath of a battle. In the desert heat, the bones have become “very dry” (v. 2), i.e. have long been lifeless. The scene suggests Israel’s total defeat by an army, probably Babylonian. God has the power to bring the bones back to life (v. 3). The words breath, wind and Spirit are the same word, ru’ah, in Hebrew (as in Genesis 1:2). God commands Ezekiel to tell the bones that he will give them new life (v. 5), resuscitate Israel. In vv. 7-8 and 9-10, the prophet prophesies, and the slain come to life. Vv. 11-14 are God’s interpretation of the dream. The people are now without hope (v. 11), and feel that there is nothing to live for. But God tells Ezekiel to prophesy that he will bring them back to life, to “the land of Israel” (v. 12). In v. 14, God says that the people will receive the Spirit from him, be returned to the land, and be resurrected, brought back to life. He will do these things for his people.


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” are everywhere, all made in his wisdom. To Israelites, the sea 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 (v. 30). 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!


Romans

Romans is the first epistle in the New Testament, although not the first to be written. Paul wrote it to the church at Rome, which included both Jews and Gentiles. His primary theme is the basics of the good news of Christ, salvation for all people. The book was probably written in 57 AD, when Paul was near the end of his third missionary journey around the Eastern Mediterranean. It is unusual in that it was written to a church that Paul had not visited.


Romans 8:22-27

Paul has written that living the Christian life involves suffering, but that this is minuscule compared to the certain hope of future glory. In his view, all people and all of nature (“creation”, v. 19) await the resolution of the present “bondage to decay” (v. 21), to continual sinful acts; we await the “revealing of the children of God” (v. 19). All of nature awaits rebirth, like a mother-to-be, sharing in stress, anxiety and pain. We Christians also experience this, as we await full union with God (“adoption”, v. 23), although we already have the first benefits of the Holy Spirit. (The “first fruits” of the harvest, offered to God, portended the full harvest; “our bodies” are our selves.) For, he says, Christ, in freeing us from sin, in saving us, gave us this hope (v. 24). We do not know (see) the full extent of what God will give us – and we must wait patiently (v. 25). In vv. 26-27, Paul gives an example of how the Spirit helps us: we are limited in our knowledge of how to pray, but the Spirit ensures the efficacy of our prayers. The Spirit, in helping us, does so in accord with God’s plan, so God knows both our very beings and the 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 15:26-27;16:4b-15

After the Last Supper, Jesus continues to tell the disciples about the mission they are to undertake. The “Advocate” is the Holy Spirit; he is the “spirit of truth” (15:26, 16:13), and will be sent to the disciples, the Church, by Christ “from the Father”. The Church too is to witness, to work with the Holy Spirit, by living the life that Christ made possible, continuing Christ’s work in the world (15:27). Why does Jesus say: “yet none of you asks me ...”? (16:5) They have asked the question earlier (13:36, 14:5). Perhaps he is saying: preoccupied with “sorrow” (16:6), you are missing the main point: the coming of the Spirit. Then 16:7: by leaving them, Jesus is able to send the Spirit. One thing the Spirit will do is to show “the world” (16:8, possibly Jews) that they are wrong on three counts:

  • their idea of sin is incorrect (16:9);
  • the righteous who condemned Jesus are wrong: he is God's agent (16:10); and
  • he has defeated sin (16:11).
  • For example, to heal on the Sabbath is not sinful.

    Then 16:12-13: the Spirit will tell them things Jesus has not. In his guidance, he will speak what comes to him from God (as Jesus has spoken what the Father has told him.) The Spirit will prophesy about events “to come”. The Spirit will reveal the essential nature of God, and show Christ’s essential nature and power (“glorify”, 16:14). Whether the word comes from the Father, the Son, or the Spirit it is the same.

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