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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

The Ascension of our Lord - May 29, 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.


Acts 1:1-11

Luke begins his second book by summarizing “the first” (the gospel). “Theophilus”, to whom the gospel is written, may be a person (whose name means lover of God) or any reader who loves God. Jesus had chosen “the apostles” (v. 2) from a larger group of followers; in Luke 24 he instructs them. The “many convincing proofs” (v. 3) of his resurrection include his appearances on the road to Emmaus and in Jerusalem. “Forty days” may be just a considerable period of time, or it may, with “not many days from now” (v. 5), point to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The word translated “staying” (v. 4) can also mean eating; in Luke 24, Jesus eats with the disciples. John the Baptiser predicted that the Messiah would baptise “with the Holy Spirit” (v. 5).

An angel has told Mary that “the Lord God will give to him [Jesus] the throne of his ancestor David” so it is not surprising that those present expect political Israel to be restored (v. 6). But Jesus’ answer shows the restoration to be of a different nature (v. 7). When it will be (“the times”) and by what steps (“periods”) he does not say. From the Day of Pentecost on, the apostles will be his representatives, spreading the good news universally (v. 8). Luke describes the ascension physically (like Elijah’s) but includes a divine element, the “two men in white robes”, (v. 10), God’s messengers. Some of the disciples were from “Galilee” (v. 11). The time of the Church will end with Jesus returning as he departed.


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 47

This psalm is a hymn celebrating God’s enthronement as king of all nations. It probably dates from the days of David or of Solomon. Vv. 1-4 summon all people everywhere to praise the God of Israel as king. The Israelites gradually changed from recognizing a number of gods, of whom one was chief (“Most High”), to one God. Israel’s “heritage” (or inheritance) is the Promised Land. “Jacob” (v. 4) is Israel. The Hebrew in v. 5 suggests that this psalm was written to accompany a religious ceremony connected with the Ark of the covenant; it dramatized God’s kingship. “His holy throne” (v. 8) recalls Isaiah’s commissioning in Isaiah 6:1. V. 9a, as translated here tells of all rulers gathering as the people of Israel’s God (our God). Gather to is another possible translation, so it may tell of vassal rulers coming to Jerusalem to pay tribute. Either the “shields” in v. 9b are the rulers, or this half verse speaks of peace, i.e. destruction of weapons, as 46:9 says of God: “He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth ... he burns the shields with fire”.


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 93

This psalm is a hymn extolling God as king; it deals with the kingly rule of the God of Israel and was probably composed for use in connection with a festival. Mention of Mosaic law (“decrees”) in v. 5 suggests the Festival of Booths, a time when the Law was read to the people. V. 3 speaks of waters raising up and “roaring”. To the ancients, waters were chaotic, very difficult for the gods to control. The gods did battle with them; when the gods had won, creation followed. We find echoes of this in Genesis 1. Here God wins definitively, establishing world order, which “shall never be moved” (v. 1), i.e. changed or defeated. God rules over all of creation, even the forces of chaos. V. 5a recognizes that the Law (“decrees”) are firm and offer dependable guidance (“very sure”). In v. 5b, “your house” is the Temple but the meaning of this half verse in the Hebrew is not clear. It may be saying that the Temple is indeed a holy place, God being who he is and what he has achieved.


Ephesians

This letter of Paul was written from prison, probably in Rome. Whilst the Bible states that it was written to the church at Ephesus, the some early manuscripts do not contain an addressee in 1:1. This would imply that Ephesians was a circular letter, sent to a number of churches. If so, it introduced a new idea into letter writing: we know of no other circular letters from this period. This book celebrates the life of the church, a unique community established by God through the work of Jesus Christ, who is its head, and also the head of the whole creation.


Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul has written of the Father’s wisdom and insight in making known to us his will, his plan for completion of the restoration of the faithful to oneness with him, as told by Jesus (vv. 8, 9). God’s plan embraces both Jews and Gentiles, bringing them together in one Christian community. That this is happening he sees as evidence of God’s ability to break down diverse barriers, and to bring the world to unity in Christ.

And so, in vv. 15-16, he is delighted to hear of the successful missionary activity by people he does not know at first hand. Their “faith” (commitment to Christ) and fraternal love (love of “all the saints”, Christians both Jewish and Gentile) go hand in hand: faith involves appreciating God’s great love for humanity demonstrated in the Father’s giving of the Son. That “your” (v. 15) refers to new Christians is indicated by “as you come to know him” in v. 17: Paul prays that these (relatively) new converts may receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” as each progressively come to understand God more and more. It is not just digested knowledge (“wisdom”) that they will receive, but also “revelation”, what God will show of himself and his ways, his manifest character, his greatness, “glory”, and the fruit of interaction of knowledge with experience. The objective (v. 18) is that, illuminated by innermost conviction (“with the eyes of your heart”), they may attain a maturer knowledge of God in three ways:

  • in spiritual growth (“hope”) being those whom God has called;
  • the “glorious inheritance” Gentile Christians now share with their Jewish brethren; and
  • experience of the tremendous power of God as he works in their lives.
  • Paul’s experience speaks here: God showed him mercy when he was a persecutor of Christians. Then v. 20: this power that they now experience is what the Father used in raising Christ and having him share in the divine glory. Christ has also conquered all alien spiritual powers (“far above all rule ...”, v. 21) and pagan gods (“every name that is named”). God has made “all things” (v. 22) subject to humanity; the Father has given Christ to the church as ruler over all things spiritual. The church is one in Christ and thus is able to share in Christ’s exaltation, Christ being the complete embodiment of God, who is in the process of filling (making good) all things. It is through the church that God pervades the world with his goodness.


    Symbol of St Luke

    Luke

    Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


    Luke 24:44-53

    After his resurrection, Jesus has appeared to two followers on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, and to those gathered in Jerusalem. When they have thought that they were seeing a ghost, he has invited them to touch his wounds and eats in their presence. Jesus has told his disciples how he is the one to whom the whole of the Old Testament points; he now does so for the last time. (The third part of the Scriptures, the Writings, begins with “the psalms”.) He gives them understanding as to how this is so, interpreting verses from Hosea, Isaiah, Psalms and other books. He charges the disciples (and other followers) with preaching the good news to all people, “beginning from Jerusalem” (v. 47). They are “witnesses” (v. 48); they have seen Scripture fulfilled. The Holy Spirit will be with them, as God promised through the prophet Joel (v. 49). Jesus leads them out (v. 50), as Moses led the people of Israel out of captivity. Here the ascension occurs in a worship setting. Luke ends as it began: “in the temple” (v. 53). Jesus’ ministry on earth has ended; the era of the Church and its mission on his behalf is about to begin.

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