Scripture Studies, May 7, 2017

May 7, 2017 Fourth Sunday of Easter

Happy Easter! The Easter Season continues with the Fourth Sunday of Easter. This week the readings ask us to consider several questions. Do I hear and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd? How well do I reflect the attitude of Christ when things don’t go my way? Do I treasure the Gift of the Holy Spirit that was given to me at Baptism?

First Reading: Acts 2: 14a, 36-41

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.

36 Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?”38 Peter (said) to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” 40 He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.

NOTES on First Reading:

Verse 2:36 refers to the “in gathering of Israel” which has reached a new climactic moment as Jesus is proclaimed. Peter’s statement brings together Joel 3 and Psalm 110 with the messianic argument of Psalm 16:31. Verses 38-40 contain several references to the prophecy of Joel. Peter like a prophet of old accuses all Israel and stirs the listeners to repent. The gift of the Holy Spirit is inseparable from Baptism. Joel 3:5 which was excluded from Peter’s original quotation in verse 21, comes to mind in verse 39 where God’s control over the young church’s growth is acknowledged.

The large number of converts in the last verse of the reading is likely to have been intended to be symbolic of a large crowd rather than a historically precise number. The number itself is not historically likely.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2: 20b-25

20 But what credit is there if you are patient when beaten for doing wrong? But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.

22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

NOTES on Second Reading:

Verse 20 is a reference to the echo of the passion of Jesus in the persecution of the Christians. This section is addressed to slaves. The author reminds them that their place in life is the same as other slaves but that the motivations for their behavior must be grounded in Christ.

Verses 21b to 25 are a primitive Christian hymn based on Isa 53:4-12. The word translated as “handed himself over” in verse 23 has no object in the original Greek. Although usually taken as meaning Himself, it could also mean His cause. “Tree” is a very early Christian term for the cross (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal 3:13. See Rom 6:10-11; Isa 53:6.

The word translated as “Bishop” is “ep-is’-kop-os” which means overseer or guardian. This verse brings together images of Isa 52:13;53:11; John 10:11 and 13:10. See also Psalm 23:1-3; 80:1; Ezek 37:24. Here the suffering servant, vindicated by God in the resurrection, becomes the Good Shepherd.

Gospel Reading: John 10:1-10

1 “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. 2 But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.5 But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” 6 Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

7 So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came (before me) are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

NOTES on Gospel Reading:

The Old Testament background for the imagery in verses 1-6 may be Gen 49:24; Ps 23; Ezek 34. Ezek 34:11-16 in particular may have been in the evangelist’s mind as he wrote this section of the Gospel. This confrontation occurs at the feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) which was three months after the feast of Tabernacles. Verses 1-3 present contrasting approaches to the sheep, while verses 3b-5 focus on the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. The sheep only respond to the voice of their own shepherd. For those who had just heard the blindness of the Pharisees being condemned it would be obvious that Jesus was telling them not to respond to their teachings. The controversy with the Pharisees over Jesus’ cure of the blind man in chapter 9 continues here.

In verse 6 we are told that Jesus used a figure of speech that they did not understand. The synoptic gospels refer to parables while John calls them figures or proverbs. Lack of understanding is a common feature in the gospels. Understanding came only with acceptance of Jesus. It is not possible away from Him.

It was not unusual for a shepherd to arrange a temporary corral for the sheep to spend the night in and to lie down in place of the gate of the enclosure. The sheep could not leave the makeshift pen without waking him up. Jesus here compares Himself to such a shepherd. Use of this image may stem from the door as a Messianic symbol taken from Psalm 119:20.

The two images of shepherd and sheep gate don’t seem to quite fit together. This has led some scholars to think that the two images may have developed separately within the still young Christian tradition before they were brought together here in the Gospel.

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