Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C
Time rather caught up with me this week, and I have not had time to prepare the notes I would like and a sermon. For that reason, I have added the text of the sermon as the comment on the Gospel.
Good Shepherd Sunday
In the older lectionary, a passage from John 10 was read as the Gospel on the Second Sunday after Easter (that is, last week) which was for that reason known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’. From the Sentence, the Collect, the Gospel readings as well as the use of Psalm 23 in all three years it is aparent that that title has been shifted ahead to the Third Sunday after, or Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Acts 9.36-43
Dorcas is raised from the dead by St Peter
After the account of Paul’s conversion, Acts tells a little more about his time in Damascus and Jerusalem and then turns its attention back to Peter. For though Paul will bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, it is through Peter that this great mission is inaugurated. Two miracles are recounted before the ‘epoch-making conversion of Cornelius’ (NJBC). Today’s reading is the second of these, the story of Tabitha of Joppa, whose name in Greek is Dorcas.
In reading this passage it is instructive to compare it to Luke’s account of Jesus’ raising of the widow of Nain’s son (7.11-17) and of Jairus daughter (Lk 8.49-56). There are also models in the Old Testament (1 Kgs 17.17-24; 2 Kgs 4,32-37).
After Saul’s conversion the Church in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee was at peace and growing. In 9.32 we read that Peter has been making a tour of the communities of those who followed the way. At Lydda, about 25 miles north-west of Jersualem, he healed a man named Aeneas who had been parayzed eight years. At this many were converted to the Lord.
36. Joppa, now Jaffa, is an ancient port city about 12 miles from Lydda. For further information see
Tabitha, Dorcas in Greek, means gazelle. Her name is familiar to us from the many groups of Church women devoted to good wirks, in particular various kinds of needle-work (see v. 39) . The NJBC points out that the fact that her name is translated for Greek readers, along with borrowings from the ancient Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible (1 Kgs 17.17-24; 2 Kgs 4.32-37) ‘show this to be a Jewish-Christian story transmitted by hellenized Christians’.
38. desiring him that he would not delay to come to them: note that they do not say what they want Peter to do.
39. All the widows; here the widows seem to act as official mourners. There was later a recogized group or order of widows in the Church, organizing charitable works: see 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made is the reason her name is used for Church groups today.
40. Peter put them all outside. See Mk 5.40, Lk 18.51. Tabitha, rise NJBC compares Mk 5.41, Talitha, cum. She sat up: compare the story of the Widow of Nain’s son (Lk 7.15).
43. And he stayed in Joppa: The stage is set for the story of Cornelius (Chapter 10); we have a summary of this story in the first reading next Sunday (Acts 11.1-18).

Psalm 23
This is possibly the best-known and best-loved of all the psalms. The idea of the king as the shepherd who guards, leads, and provides for the people is found throughout the ancient world. Tradition attributes this psalm to David, who was a shepherd in his youth. In this psalm, then, the shepherd-king sees that the Lord God is his shepherd.
It can be divided into two parts: vv 1-4 sing of the Lord as the Good Shepherd and 5-6 as the Divine Host. Nonetheless, it is a unity, for these images are closely related. The image of the Lord as host comes from the banquets given by ancient kings, continuing the image of the shepherd-king providing for his followers.
2. He leads me beside still waters can also be rendered as waters of rest. Compare Rev 7.17 in the second reading today, where these words about the Good Shepherd are applied to the Lamb (Christ).
3. Soul here means life or vitality.
4. The valley of the shadow of death is an ancient rendering, but valley of deep darkness is more accurate. The same Hebrew word occurs in Psalm 44.19; 107.10; Job 3.5; Isa 9.2 and other places. The Judaica Press version gives the valley of darkness. Your rod and your staff: the mediaeval rabbinic commentary of Rashi understands this as ‘The pains that came upon me, and the support’: the rod is for correction and the staff support.
5. Is a little difficult. None of the commentaries I have at the moment explain the table set in the presence of those who trouble me, or more simply, of my enemies. Chris Haslam has: ‘The feast (v. 5) is even more impressive, for it is in the presence of his foes.’ C. S. Lewis was obviously troubled by this verse. ‘Worst of all … after the green pasture, the waters of comfort, the sure confidence in the valley of the shadow, we suddenly run across [this verse], or, as Dr Moffatt translates it, ‘Thou art my host, spreading a feast for me while my enemies have to look on’; Lewis comments, ‘The poet’s enjoyment of his present prosperity would not be complete unless those horrid enemies (who used to look down their noses at him) were watching it all and hating it. This may not be so diabolical as [some other passages]; but the pettiness and vulgarity of it, especially in such surroundings, are hard to endure. [Reflections on the Psalms, p 24]
6. Dwell can also mean ‘return’, which supports the suggestion in NJBC that this royal psalm was ‘reinterpreted after the exile’ . Likewise, while the house of the Lord generally refers to the Temple (compare 27.4), it can also mean the land of Israel in general.

A Reading from Revelation 7.9-17

I have no comments to offer on this passage except to note again the link between verse 17 and todays psalm and generally to note that the vision of the Lamb as Shepherd is a mystical filfilment of the Lord's words in the Gospel promising eternal life to the sheep of his fold.

The Holy Gospel according to St John 10.22-30

The only thing I would add now to the remarks which follow is the suggestion that one really ought to read all of John 10 and not simply the passage appointed for Sunday.

It was at Jerusalem, at the feast of the dedication, and it was winter; and Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. John 10.22
So begins today’s Gospel as appointed in the Book of Common Prayer to be read at the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Ever since I first read them, I have been enchanted by that little comment, it was winter. Perhaps, as the commentators say, it is there so that a reader unfamiliar with the Jewish calendar would know that the Dedication festival was in December (we know it now by its Hebrew name, Hanukkah), or more simply to explain why Jesus was walking under cover of a portico. The temple had colonnades or cloisters (porch is perhaps a bit misleading) marking the boundaries of the sacred precinct; the one on the east side was the oldest, and said to have been built by Solomon. But I love it because it sounds so much how people tell things that they remember. The whole opening of this passage is a vivid recalling; Jesus was as far as we know, not teaching, or engaged in controversy, but just walking. And as he walked the Jewish leaders gathered around—no, we catch the original better with surrounded or even encircled him—I see them coming up suddenly to stop him as he walked to say: Enough already! Will you tell us plainly what you are about?
The tenth chapter of John records Jesus’ sayings on the theme of the Shepherd and the Sheep, and although our passage today begins a new section, and we don’t know how much time or how little time has passed. Two parables about the Good Shepherd make up the first 18 verses, after which there is a note about a division among the Jews over Jesus’ words. Some thought he was possessed, others that he was mad; a third opinion was a that one who could do what Jesus did—specifically opening the eyes of the blind man—could not have a demon. In the new section we find that some reached another conclusion: these folk who surround Jesus in the temple cloister understood that all this talk about being the Good Shepherd was not just fine talk but a real claim, a claim to kingship, a claim indeed to be God’s representative or Messiah, his anointed one. All through the Old Testament, just as all through the ancient world, kings as the shepherds of their people, guiding them, protecting them, and providing for their welfare. In the 23 Psalm, David, the king who had been a shepherd, saw that the Lord God was the true shepherd, the host who brings his people to the feast. And does not the eightieth psalm say of God himself, Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock? This is why our Gospel today opens with the their demand, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly. For Jesus to say I am the Good Shepherd, is as much as to say, I am the Messiah, if not to claim that unity with God which ends our reading.
By the way, the words translated as, keep us in suspense, literally mean ‘take away our life’. Now this expression can mean, make us doubt, or keep us in suspense, but it is not a common expression. However, Jesus used the same expression earlier in the chapter, when he said that he lays down his life for the sheep and added, I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me. It is possible that the people who circled around Jesus that winter day had that saying in mind and were casting them back at him. Be that as it may, we now see that their demand makes sense.
But Jesus does not give a direct answer. How could he? That He was the Christ, he had declared to the Woman of Samaria (4.26), and in very slightly veiled terms to the man born blind (9.37). But if He had said it to the folk who circled him that day, either they would have thought he offered himself as the national and political leader against the Romans, or else they will start asking Him what prophesies He would fulfil. To say either Yes or No would be equally misleading. he cannot deny that he is the Christ, but he is not the kind of Christ the people were expecting or seeking. only his chosen disciples had any hope of understanding the new type of Messiahship which he has adopted—the Son of Man must suffer—and even they could clearly not understand what he meant, though they did not scoff at him or turn away.
Yet he had given the answer to the question many times in terms which they cold have grasped, if they had only been schooled by their own teachers and their own scriptures. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me (5.46). Even more, His works—those signs in which power is subordinate to love—are evidence Indeed, some of them had seen this, those who said can a demon open the eyes of the blind? But the ones who challenged him now cannot hear the evidence, however clear is. He had said of sheep, A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they know not his voice [10.4-5], and these challengers show that to them he is a stranger. They are not of his sheep and cannot hear his word (8.43).
Once again he declares that he is the true Shepherd, who keeps his sheep safe, safe for eternity. No one shall snatch them out of my hand. He had used this word ‘snatch’ [ἁρπάσει] before, of the wolf who attacks the flock [10.12]. [The Greek verb also gives us the words ‘harp’, which is played by plucking the strings, and ‘harpy’. The myth tells us the harpies were sent each day to snatch away food set before Phineas king of Thrace ] Nothing can snatch Christ’s sheep from his hand
Here is the message of hope, the Good News, we declare today. If we are truly committed to Christ, no assault can tear us from Him. St Paul wrote, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress,? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8.35, 38, 39). There’s one thing that can, but we’ll finish commenting on the passage before we come back to it.
These words are implicitly a claim to divine status: now he makes it explicit. The reason why He can confidently say that none can snatch his sheep from His hands is that this is certainly true of the Father—no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand; and what is true of Him is true of the Son; for I and the Father are one [30]. He did not give a plain answer to a plain question, but this is a plain statement. It took centuries for Christians to work out all that this means in light of their faith and experience. Nonetheless it is a stupendous affirmation of union with the Deity, a union that is the only ground for our trust in the Lord Jesus. His hearers tried to arrest him or blasphemy, but he escaped. This claim was blasphemy if it was not true. So much was seen at the time.. But there is another consideration. The claim is ridiculous if it is not true, it is the word of a madman. The fact that no one ever felt an inclination to laugh at it is very strong evidence of its truth, a truth is proved both in the Resurrection and in the lives of Christian men and women.
But I said that there was one thing that can snatch us from Christ’s hand. What can snatch me from him? I can. Our Shepherd does not force us to follow him, and we are perfectly free to turn away from him. And many do, or at least wander off on our own perhaps blithely thinking that it doesn’t matter whether we follow him, whether we listen to him or not. If we are truly committed to Christ, no assault can tear us from Him. But if we are not, or if we ignore him, and stay away from his church, then we open ourselves to assault, we leave a postern gate open for spies and invaders. With such a wonderful promise as we hear in today’s Gospel, how can we be so careless?

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