Lectionary Commentary

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for April 8, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter

 

The Readings

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Worth Noting: Many thoughtful readers think Acts’ depiction of the Apostolic Church in Jerusalem is itself an idealized portrait constructed for third and fourth generation Christians. It serves the same purpose today, as contemporary Christians strive to build communities modeled on these portraits. Does your religious community accept such depictions as normative for their common life?

Psalm 133
1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the LORD ordained his blessing,
life forevermore.

Worth Noting: Living together in a faith community can be as rich and sensual as oil on the beard and dew on the ground. At baptism, the newly baptized is marked with oil. Tradition demands lots of oil: on the head and hair so that the scent lasts for a week and reminds us all of the new life in Christ. Does your community emphasize the sensual aspects of religion? Do you hug and hold hands and breathe in incense? Bellow the hymns and break out the plants and flowers?

Second Reading: 1 John 1:1-2:2
1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life –  2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Worth Noting: Contemporary Christians have trouble with the concept of sin. Sometimes we want to attribute any evil deeds to environmental, sociological, or genetic factors. Other times we want to ignore our own complicity in evil, especially in perpetuating environmental and sociological factors. How does your community view sin? Is it something for which you are responsible?

Gospel: John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these 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.

CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES

Introduction to Acts of the Apostles

The Lectionary reads Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter season and on Pentecost Sunday. Acts presupposes the reader is familiar with Luke’s view of three historical epochs: the time of the religion of Israel, the time of Jesus, at the center of history, and the time of the Church. Acts describes the time of the Church, taking the story from Jerusalem, a provincial capital, to Rome, the capital of the Empire.
Acts itself may be divided into three sections. The first seven chapters constitute the portrait of the earliest, Jerusalem Church, ending with the stoning of Stephen as the ultimate rejection by “the Jews” of Jesus’ Gospel. Acts 8:1 through 11:18 shows the transition of the community from close ties to the laws and rituals of the Religion of Israel to a mission of reaching out to Gentiles. From Acts 11:18 to the end (Acts 28:31), Acts spotlights the ministry of Paul, evangelizing first in the eastern Mediterranean and then journeying, in captivity, to Rome. Along the way, Acts records the decisions at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-31) that relieved Gentiles from the obligation of following the Jewish laws of circumcision, dietary restrictions, and Sabbath observance.
History, any history, is written to influence a current audience. The history related may be a cautionary tale of human folly (for example, histories of a military debacle), or, very often, a portrait of a near-idyllic time past with which the contemporary time is unfavorably compared (for example, popular portraits of the 1950’s).   Acts falls squarely within the second category. The author wants his third or fourth generation audience (Acts was written 80 to 100 c.e.) to rededicate themselves to the principles that informed the earliest apostles. Its truth, then, lies in the ideals.

Entering into the Scriptures

John 20:31 is widely understood to represent the logical conclusion of the Gospel of John (chapter 21 provides an appendix). Then this final scene includes many important actions, beginning with the sending of the disciples (who surely included Mary Magdalene and the other women who stood at the foot of the Cross, as well as men like Joseph of Arimathea who followed Jesus “though secretly”) just as the Father sent Jesus. As Jesus went with the Spirit, and came to loosen the bonds of sin, so the disciples are given the Holy Spirit and the same capacity to relieve sins.
The stage is now set for the disciples to take up Jesus’ mission, and the Gospel could end here (as Matthew ended his Gospel), but the evangelist has more to say. For that, he uses Thomas, the apostle who first expressed willingness to die with Jesus (John 11:16). Thomas, like the other disciples, has not understood Jesus’ prophecies of his resurrection and, perhaps not surprisingly, also does not take the word of his fellows. So the appearance of Jesus elicits a dramatic climax to the scene in Thomas’ confession of belief: “My Lord and my God,” the very title the Roman Emperor Domitian most enjoyed.
The Gospel has come full circle. With Thomas’ declaration, the Word, Jesus, is proclaimed God, harkening back to the Gospel prologue, John 1:1-14. The infusion of the Spirit invokes the breath of God ordering creation (Genesis 1:2) and even more directly the breath of the Lord infusing Adam in Genesis 2:7. The disciples are charged with restoring creation to tis original state of sinlessness.
The last two verses, John 20:30-31, turn the attention of the narrator from the actions of Jesus and his disciples to the very group attending to his words – the fourth generation Christians, and us, for whom the Gospel was written. We receive the same gift of the Spirit and the charge to do as Jesus did. We are to believe without seeing the signs that Jesus performed, for a simple reason: We know what Jesus continues to do in and through us.

The Skeptic

. Doubting Thomas, Thomas the Apostle needs no defense from Journeying’s editor. Churches that trace their origins to his missionary work (recounted in “Acts of Thomas”) extend from Syria to India. And really, was his disbelief any greater than that of Mary or Peter or the Beloved Disciple? None of them accepted Jesus’ own words but needed to see the Empty Tomb and the burial linens and to hear the voice of the Lord.
Thomas, instead, prefigures the faith of many contemporary Christians. Like Thomas, we are skeptical of God’s continuing presence in a world of turmoil, strife, and death. We demand signs of the miraculous and ignore the everyday signs of God’s Spirit working to restore creation by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, attending the sick, and visiting the imprisoned (Matthew 25:34-36). In these actions, we witness the loosening of the bonds of sin and

Questions for Discussion

Have you read any history recently? Was the author clear in his objectives? What did the history say about the current situation?

Faith and doubt are commonplace in the Christian life. What raises doubt in your mind and what restores faith?

If your religious community accepts the existence of sin, does it hold that individuals are responsible for it? How are individuals forgiven their sins? Is there a way to publicly acknowledge responsibility and attain forgiveness?

For a PDF of this week’s Journeying, click here.

 

Dennis Haugh has enjoyed working with adult seekers for over 20 years. He aims to engage academic and general audiences for the New Testament. To hone his skills and burnish his credentials, he earned his PhD in Biblical Studies in the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology joint program.  He appreciates any correspondence: dennishaugh2011@gmail.com.

 

 

Unless expressly stated otherwise, all quotations from Scripture are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

The 18th century icon of Thomas the Apostle is reproduced from Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia.

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary © 2018 Dennis Haugh. Recent postings may be accessed at https://www.sttims.net/journeying-through-the-lectionary/.

 

 

 

 

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