Scripture Studies, May 14, 2017

May 14, 2017 Fifth Sunday of Easter

Happy Easter! Yes, in case you forgot, we are still celebrating Easter. The world, in its rush, attempts to deprive us too soon of the Paschal joy of Easter. Our Church liturgies will celebrate the Easter Season until Pentecost Sunday. The readings this week encourage us to consider the way in which the Holy Spirit has been and is still active in the Christian community (church) and in our own lives. In the first reading, the Holy Spirit brings about an adaptation in the early church’s ministries that preserves unity and promotes growth. Peter’s letter continues his reflection on Baptism and the gift of the Spirit that flows from it. John tells us of Jesus’ farewell discourse where Jesus both reassures and challenges His followers (us).

First Reading: Acts 6:1-7

1 At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.2 So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. 3 Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, 4 whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. 7 The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

NOTES on First Reading:

The Hellenists were Jews who spoke only Greek. They were not necessarily Jews from the diaspora, but may have been Palestinian Jews. The Hebrews refers to Palestinian Jews who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic and who may also have spoken Greek. Both groups belong to the Jerusalem Jewish Christian community. The conflict between them leads to a restructuring of the community in order to better serve the community’s needs. In a way the whole episode serves to introduce Stephen as a prominent figure in the community whose long speech and martyrdom will be recounted in Acts 7.

The essential function of the Twelve is the “service of the word.” This included preservation and development of the kerygma including formulation of the teachings of Jesus.

The position given to the Seven is interpreted by some commentators to be not the serving of food as is described here but rather the keeping of the accounts that recorded the distribution of food to the needy members of the community. They are to ensure fairness in distribution. In any case, after the Seven are chosen, they are never presented carrying out the task for which they were appointed (Acts 6:2-3). Rather, two of their number, Stephen and Philip, are presented as preachers of the Christian message. They, the Hellenist counterpart of the Twelve, are active in the ministry of the word. Just as the twelve served as representatives of all of Israel (twelve tribes) the Seven may represent all of the Gentile nations. The popular Jewish understanding of geography recognized seven great gentile nations.

Laying on hands was the customary Jewish way of designating persons for a task and invoking upon them the divine blessing and power to perform it. Early Christians took this gesture over into their rituals and saw it as an action invoking the Holy Spirit. This gesture is still used in ordination and confirmation rites and in other rituals where the Holy Spirit is invoked or imparted.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2: 4-9

4 Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, 5 and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it says in scripture:

“Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion,
a cornerstone, chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.”

7 Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but
for those without faith:
“The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

8 and
“A stone that will make people stumble,
and a rock that will make them fall.”

They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.

9 But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

NOTES on Second Reading:

Verses 4 through 10 are a high point in this letter. They describe the nature and function of the Church. Jesus is the foundation stone of the Church. The term, spiritual house, refers to a household formed by the Holy Spirit. Priesthood implies access to God and offering to God. Christianity must include community and Christians are seen corporately as a holy priesthood offering their lives of faith and love to God. This community, the church, is built on Jesus Who is the precious stone. This idea is echoed in verse 7. Verse 6 is an adaptation of Isaiah 28:16.

Verse 8 refers to persecution. See Psalm 118:22 and Isa 8:14. This text does NOT mean or even hint at God’s final rejection of the Jews. See Rom 11:11-32 and 1 Tim 2:4 for clarification on this issue.

Near the end of the reading, the words translated as “royal priesthood” are better translated as two nouns. “Royal house” and “body of priests” may better express the meaning of the original. Four Old Testament titles of Israel are now applied to the new household of God with election as the basis of this call. The titles are taken from Isa 43:20-21 (“a chosen race”) ; Ex 19:5-6 (“a royal priesthood”) ; Exodus 19:6 (“a holy nation”) ; Deut 7:6-9; Hos 1:9,2:25; Malachi 3:17 (reserved for God, a people he claims for his own). This transcends all natural and national divisions and unites the people into one community so that they glorify, with one voice, the one who led them from the darkness of paganism to the light of faith. From being “no people” deprived of all mercy, they have become the very people of God, the chosen recipients of his mercy (Hosea 1:9; 2:23).

Gospel Reading: John 14: 1-12

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. 4 Where (I) am going you know the way.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.7 If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.12 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

NOTES on Gospel Reading:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” is a statement that marks off a dialogue as a literary inclusion in John 14:1,27.

Jesus says that He must go and prepare so that when He returns we may be where He is. This is often thought of as referring to Heaven but it is also true of the cross. Here, before suffering, He tells His disciples why He must go, first to the cross and then to the Father. It is to secure our place with Him forever.

There were a large number of heavenly journeys in the apocalyptic traditions of the time. In a departure from their language, Jesus Himself, not an apocalyptic heavenly geography, is said to be the way. Truth and life which are two of the basic soteriological (salvation) images of this gospel act almost as modifiers of way. Jesus is not just a guide to salvation. Rather, He is the source of life and truth. In John’s Gospel, truth is usually a reference to the action of the Father in the world through Jesus.

In verse 8, Philip is asking for a theophany like Exodus 24:9-10; 33:18.

Verses 9 to 12 indicate that Jesus is the revelation of God. The link between Jesus’ words and those of the Father who sent Him is grounded in the picture of Jesus as the agent of the Father as He is often presented in John’s Gospel. See 3:34;7:17-18;8:28,47;12:47-49. The signs and wonders that He did are only to point to the oneness of Jesus and the Father. So the miracles of the Christian community are also signs of the oneness between Jesus, present in His followers by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Father.

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