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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Second Sunday of Easter - April 7, 2013



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 5:27-32

Peter and John have been arrested by the religious authorities for teaching and proclaiming that “in Jesus there is resurrection of the dead” (4:2). The Sanhedrin has ordered them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (4:18). So popular are they with the people that the Sanhedrin does not punish them. But later the growth in believers leads the high priest to take further action; he and the Sadducees see the disciples doing what they cannot do, i.e. healing the sick. This time, all the apostles are imprisoned; however, a divine messenger sets them free (v. 19). They go right back to preaching – in the outer court of the Temple (v. 21). The temple police bring them to appear before the council.

Now the high priest imputes that the apostles place the blame for Jesus’ death on the religious authorities (“you are determined ...”, v. 28). Led by Peter, they insist that they must obey God’s will rather than the Sanhedrin’s orders (v. 29). They explain in Jewish terms: the “God of our ancestors” (v. 30) is the God of Israel (and of Christians): he has “raised” Jesus from the dead. The Law prescribed that a person guilty of a capital offence be hanged “on a tree”; Peter interprets cross as being the Roman equivalent to the Jewish tree. Moses was “Leader and Saviour” (v. 31) of Israel, under God; Jesus is much more so: he goes before us; now with the Father, he continues to rescue us from sin and death. Jesus’ message was first to “Israel”. Both the apostles and the “Holy Spirit” (v. 32), given to the faithful, are “witnesses” to Christ’s actions.

The council members are so enraged that they want to kill Peter, but a famous liberal rabbi, Gamaliel, cautions them: “if this ... is of human origin, it will fail” (v. 38); but if it is from God, they “will not be able to overthrow them” (v. 39) and they will be working against God. Peter and John are flogged for their earlier offence. Despite being ordered not to preach the Good News, the apostles continue to do so, both in the Temple and in homes.


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 118:14-29

Vv. 1-2 are a call to thanksgiving: God’s mercy, his “steadfast love”, is everlasting. May “Israel” (v. 2) (and) “those who fear the Lord” (v. 4) proclaim this! Vv. 5-13 say that, when the psalmist (possibly the king) was in distress, he “called on the LORD”, who heard him. With God on his side, there is nothing to fear; trusting in God is better than trusting in humans. Surrounded by his enemies, “in the name of the LORD I cut them off” (v. 11), with God’s help. V. 15 recalls Exodus 15:2a, part of Israel’s classic victory song sung by Moses and the Israelites after crossing the Reed (Red) Sea. The “glad songs” are heard in the Temple, the community of the faithful. The psalmist expects to live to old age (v. 17); he will proclaim God’s acts of power. He has suffered greatly at God’s hands, as a discipline, but God has preserved his life. He seeks entrance to the Temple (“gates of righteousness”, v. 19) to give thanks; only the godly may enter therein (v. 20). V. 22, possibly based on an ancient proverb, may speak of the king’s rise to power or his victory. On this day (v. 24) God has either saved his people or punished the ungodly – or both. This is a time for rejoicing. In v. 26, all proclaim he who was “rejected” (v. 22), but is now God’s chosen ruler. Note the progression in vv. 26-29: “festal procession”, “extol” (raise up), everlasting love.


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 150

The psalter ends with a doxology, praise to God. In Hebrew, v. 1 begins with Hallelujah! V. 1b calls on all the people to praise God in his earthly “sanctuary”, the Temple. Hebrew poetry uses a device called parallelism: here v. 1c parallels v. 1b: it calls on the heavenly council to praise God in his heavenly temple. He is to be praised for his supreme power in the actions of creation and of restoring people from waywardness (v. 2). Vv. 3-5 tell us how psalms were accompanied: with various (to us) traditional instruments, with modern music (“clashing cymbals”), and with liturgical “dance” (v. 4). V. 6 returns to the theme of v. 1: may all living creatures praise the Lord!


Revelation

This is the last book of the Bible and is in a way a summary of the whole of the Bible. It is an apocalypse, a vision which foretells the future and presents an understanding of the past. It tells of the struggle between good and evil, and the ultimate victory of Christ. Writing in symbolic language, its author urges Christians to keep faith in a period of persecution. It is hard to understand because we do not know the meaning of the symbols (e.g. animals) it uses.


Revelation 1:4-8

John begins and ends this book as a letter. Literally, it is “to the seven churches that are in Asia” (v. 4a), Asia being a Roman province in western Asia Minor, but “seven” symbolizes totality, so John may speak to all churches in the province, or to all everywhere. The salutation combines both Greek (“grace”) and Hebrew (“peace”) forms, and is from God, here described as being throughout time, meaning eternal. The salutation is also from “the seven spirits”: perhaps meaning the Spirit of God (in Isaiah 11:2, the Spirt operates in seven ways) or the seven angels (Michael, Raphael, etc) closest to God (“before his throne”, v. 4) in contemporary Jewish thinking. Further, it is “from Jesus Christ” (v. 5), who is:

  • “the faithful witness”: he revealed the Father perfectly in his earthly life, and crowned this by the sacrifice of his life;
  • “firstborn of the dead”: in his resurrection, he inaugurated a new era; and
  • “ruler ...”: being now exalted, he has power over all creation.
  • Vv. 5b-6 praise God:

  • Christ loves us continually and, by his death, he has freed us from sins; and
  • he has marked us as God’s, and has made us all “priests”, mediators between God and the rest of humanity.
  • “Amen”, a Hebrew word, means It is sure and trustworthy! or so be it!: it is both valid and binding. (In 3:14, Christ is called “the Amen”.) V. 7 combines two Old Testament prophetic sayings to predict the return of Christ at the end of the age. Those who put him to death and all unbelievers “will wail” for showing hostility to Christ and his Church: they will be condemned when Jesus comes to us as judge. V. 8 tells us that, from A to Z, God is sovereign over all events of human history; his power is supreme (“Almighty”).


    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 20:19-31

    Early on Easter Day, Mary Magdalene has discovered that Jesus’ body is missing from the tomb; the stone door is open, so it looks as though someone has stolen it (v. 1). She has seen a man standing near the tomb. When he speaks to her, she recognizes him as Jesus. She has told the disciples: “I have seen the Lord” (v. 18).

    Later the same day, Jesus joins the disciples, gathered behind locked doors. He shows them that he is the one who was crucified (v. 20). Jesus confers on “the disciples” (not including Thomas, but perhaps a group larger than the ten) “peace” (vv. 19, 21) and “the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). As God “breathed” life into Adam, the proto-human, so Jesus now breathes the new, spiritual, life of recreated humanity into his followers. Aided by the Spirit, they continue Jesus’ judicial role in the world, forgiving the sins of the faithful and holding others blameworthy (“retain”, v. 23) for their actions. Thomas is expected to believe without having seen, but he demands: show me the evidence! (v. 25)

    The next Sunday, the community gathers again (v. 26). Upon seeing, Thomas makes the most complete affirmation of faith of anyone in the gospel (v. 29). Henceforth the faith of all Christians in all ages will rest on the testimony of the first believers. Vv. 30-31 tell us John’s purpose in writing the book. His eyewitness account is intended to help us, who were not witnesses of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension to “come to believe” and thus “have life in his name”, eternal life.

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