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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 5, 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 16:9-15

Paul has set out on his second great missionary journey. Starting from Caesarea Philippi, he has travelled north to Antioch, then generally northwest through Asia Minor. He, Silas and Timothy have now arrived at “Troas” (v. 8), a seaport on the Aegean Sea.

Now he has a dream, which he understands to contain instructions from God. “Macedonia” (vv. 9, 10) was the Roman province in northern Greece, so Paul is bidden to enter Europe for the first time, to begin spreading “the good news” (v. 10) there. “Samothrace” (v. 11) is an island mid-way between “Troas” and “Neapolis”, the seaport for “Philippi” (v. 12). Philippi was settled as a “Roman colony” when veterans from a battle in 42 BC were granted land there. Paul visits the Jewish community first; they meet for prayer “outside ... by the river” (v. 13), perhaps because they lack a synagogue building. Gentile women were attracted to Judaism by its ethical standards. One of them is “Lydia” (v. 14): she already worships God; she is receptive to Paul’s message. “Thyatira”, in the province of Lydia in Asia Minor, is addressed by John in Revelation 2. She is a business woman, selling luxury fabrics (“purple cloth”). She and her household are the first in Europe to convert to Christianity and to be baptised. Paul and his associates are reluctant to accept her hospitality, but she insists and they accept.


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 67

This is either a psalm of thanksgiving for an abundant harvest (perhaps written for use at the Feast of Tabernacles) or a prayer for a good harvest. Vv. 1-2 recall the priestly blessing God instructed that Aaron and his sons impart to the Israelites, but here it is extended to “the nations” (v. 4). Vv. 3-4 say: may all nations recognize Israel’s God as lord of all peoples (and not just of Israel), that he is the universal just ruler and “guide” (as exemplified in how he treats Israel.) In the NRSV, v. 6a indicates that the harvest is in; however, another rendering is May the earth yield her produce. May all people everywhere hold God in awe (v. 7).


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 21:10,22-22:5

God is revealing the events of the end-time to John. In his dream, an angel has carried him into the desert to see a whore and decaying “Babylon” (18:21), i.e. Rome; now he sees, in another vision, “the wife of the Lamb” (21:9), the spouse of Christ, i.e. the glorified Church, the new “holy city Jerusalem” (21:10). The “glory of God” (21:11, his presence) permeates the Church and transfigures her. The symbols are largely drawn from Ezekiel 40-48. John sees inscribed on the city gates “the names of the twelve tribes” (21:12), and on its foundations those of “the twelve apostles” (21:14): probably both faithful Jews and Christians are celestial citizens. The numbers in the vision are 3 (times 4), 12 and multiples of 12: twelve symbolizes the continuity between God’s people in the Old Testament and the Church in the New. The city’s cubic shape (21:16) is a symbol of perfection. In the Greek, it is 12,000 stadia long: a thousand is a very large number. The height of the city “wall” (21:17) is minuscule by comparison: it serves only to delimit the city from the land round it. The “foundations of the wall” (21:19) are adorned with precious stones, as is the priest’s breastplate in Exodus. The city is magnificent indeed.

The city lacks a physical temple, for the presence of God, Father and Son (“the Lamb”, 21:22) pervade the entire godly community, and they illuminate it (21:23). All peoples and all rulers will be guided by this light (21:24). Gates of an ancient city were kept closed against enemies, but those of the city of God will be open to give everyone free access at all times (21:25), for they will live in perfect safety. People will, in entering, reflect God’s “glory ... and honour” (21:26). While there will still be a distinction between those who trust in God and those who worship other gods (“abomination”, 21:27), the realm of those accepted by God will extend to all who dwell in the city, whose names are in Christ’s “book of life”. (God’s record of the faithful is mentioned numerous times in the Bible.)

In Ezekiel 47, a sacred life-giving stream runs from the Temple; here a “river” (22:1) flows from “God ... and ... the Lamb” (Christ). John’s vision includes both the original bliss of the Garden of Eden and the hoped-for restoration of Ezekiel. In the Greek, “tree” (22:2) is collective, so many trees will provide nourishment for the godly, for the “healing” of all: this is the goal and result of God’s new creation. There will be no sin in the city, so “nothing [will be] accursed” (22:3). In Exodus, to see God’s face was to die, but now the godly will see it joyously (22:4). Being marked with God’s “name”, God will protect them. Those who worship God will reign with him for ever.


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 14:23-29

Jesus continues to prepare his followers for his departure. Judas, son of James (one of the twelve in Luke’s list of disciples) has asked him: “‘how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’” (v. 22). Jesus answers, but not directly. In the era to come, when the Father and Son come, separation between God and those who love him will no longer exist (v. 23). Loving Jesus implies obeying him. The message Jesus brings is “from the Father” (v. 24); Jesus is his agent.

Jesus’ words will be complemented by the actions of the “Holy Spirit” (v. 26), who will be “Advocate”, i.e. helper and counsellor to believers. He will cause the disciples to remember (“remind”) what Jesus has said, and help them to understand the true significance of Jesus’ words and deeds (“everything”). Jesus gives to his followers “peace”, (v. 27, shalom) – a very different gift from worldly gifts. In loving God, we come to know him. If they really knew Jesus, they would rejoice at his coming departure (v. 28). The Father has sent him into the world to do his will, so in that sense “the Father is greater than I”. Jesus has told them this so that when they see his manner of leaving (“it”, v. 29), they “may believe”.


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 5:1-9

The Copper Scroll found at Qumran mentions the Pool of “Beth-zatha” (v. 2, or Bethesda), with its five porticos. It was to the north of the Temple area. By “Hebrew”, John probably means Aramaic, the common language of Palestinian Jews at the time. V. 4 is not in the best manuscripts, so we are dependent on other verses for the context of the healing. The man, “ill for thirty-eight years” (v. 5), had been at the pool for some time. His answer to Jesus (v. 7) gives us a clue: only the first person (or persons) into the stirred-up waters was cured. This was either a belief, or the stirring only lasted for a short time.

The man is cured at Jesus’ command (vv. 8-9). Whether the man became a believer is left in doubt. John wishes his readers to understand that the waters of life Jesus offers are more effective than those of a Jewish pool. To carry one’s bed on the Sabbath was forbidden in rabbinic law. The religious authorities first castigate the man for breaking the law (v. 10), but then, learning the identity of the healer from the man, they “started persecuting Jesus” (v. 16) for breaking the Sabbath. When Jesus tells them that my work is God’s work (v. 17), they accuse him of blasphemy.

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