Sunday Scripture: Sixth Sunday of Easter (YEAR C)





Welcome to this, the Forty-first of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass.


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I sincerely hope that this reflection will inspire you. You might find that it answers a few questions you may have, but most of all I hope that it will show you how fantastic Sacred Scripture is and perhaps enable you to share some of my love and passion for the Bible as you begin to comprehend how layered and multi-faceted it is, and what a carefully considered part of the Mass the readings are.

If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

I would like to think this regular blog would be a great help to anyone who reads at Mass, to enable them to foster a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to impart to the congregation.

There are several different ways to read this post. I would suggest the first thing to do is to look at the relevant readings. You might then want to look at the specific commentary for a particular reading. I post the same summary of the featured Biblical books each week, but at the end, under the subheading this week, you will usually find some commentary specific to each week. At the end I post a passage which attempts to draw all the readings together and understand the message.

My reflections are not definitive, but based on my study and perhaps authenticated by careful reference to the Biblical Commentaries and books I list at the bottom each week.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

The Holy Spirit and the Mission.

Descent of New Jerusalem 
by Patricia Wagner

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism may, under your protective care, bear much fruit and come to the joys of life eternal.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity if the Holy Spirit
one God for ever and ever.

This week's readings are:
  • First Reading: Acts of the Apostle 15: 1-2, 22-29.
  • Psalm 66: 2-3; Response: v. 4. 
  • Second Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23.
  • Gospel: John 14:23-29.
First, a short preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them, although I may add a little detail specific to each week's readings.

The Acts of the Apostles I have written a detailed exposition of Acts which you can read here.

This week: The turning point of Acts, almost central in the book, this narrative is about the Council of Jerusalem (AD 49). This narrative (15:1-35) has the last appearance of Peter and the last appearance of the Apostles as a body. It is a last confirmation of the legitimacy of the mission to the Gentiles and of their freedom from the Law, before Paul finally takes centre stage and sets off on the missionary journeys which are going to lead him to the 'ends of the earth'.

The Council is the theological centre of Acts because it demonstrates that the Church is a covenant community distinct from Judaism and also a catholic community which embraces all nations. The council was convened to examine the status of Gentile believers crowding into the Church. Paul's great letter addressing this issue is Galatians, which indeed refers to a 'controversy at Jerusalem about the obligations of Gentile Christians to the Jewish Law (Gal 2:1-10).

The Council rejected the push to add circumcision to the saving grace of Christ (15:10-11). This is a decisive break with the national religion of Israel.
Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

This week: A communal hymn of praise and thanksgiving for a good agricultural year, perhaps for use at the feast of Tabernacles. The opening verse is from the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:25 (almost verbatim here), and appears in the psalms at 4:7; 31:17; here, 80:4, 8, 20 (a refrain); 118:27 and 119:135.

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the canonical New Testament even though II Peter was the last book to be composed. It was written by John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8) an exile on the island of Patmos (1:9) one of the northernmost islands of the Dodecanese group. There is an array of ancient authors who offer testimony that this is John the son of Zebedee (Mk 3:17). It is the only book of its kind in the New Testament: a work of Christian prophecy that has much in common with the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Yet it is also an apocalyptic book with clear similarities to Jewish religious writings called apocalypses, which date from the same contemporary period. Dominated as it is by apocalyptic and prophetic symbolism, the book of Revelation is notoriously difficult to interpret. Even St. jerome the most learned Biblical scholar in the early Church was compelled to admit that it "has as many mysteries as words" (Letters 53, 8). We need to take an integrative view of Revelation which recognises that the presence of multiple themes and perspectives which compliment one another serves to add richness and depth to the book. Christianity's struggle with the mighty Roman Empire is certainly part of the picture, as are the spiritual challenges to faith and fidelity that confront believers bombarded by the claims of the world. In this context, one must accept that Revelation offers a message of ultimate hope that looks ahead to the consummation of history and the heavenly glorification of the saints.
This week: we are treated to a dazzling description of the heavenly Jerusalem which draws on the architectural blueprint of the glorified Temple-city in Ezek 40-48. The mention of the twelve tribes and twelve Apostles suggests that the city symbolises a people; but there is no simple equation of the new Jerusalem and the people of God. Rather the city represents a transcendent and future reality: God dwelling with people, face to face.

The Temple is hugely important as, though it was destroyed, probably by the time Revelation was written, its significance is not so much the physical earthly Temple, but as a symbol of the hoped for close relationship between humans and God. In the vision of salvation in 7:9-17, service in the heavenly Temple has the same symbolic significance (v. 15). In this vision, the Temple continues to have symbolic significance as a way of expressing the full and direct presence of God and the Lamb (cf. Ezek 48:35).

The Gospel According to St. John: I have written a detailed exposition on the Gospel of St. John which you can read here.

This week: Jesus tells us how the divine presence can only be known by someone who loves; when the Son has returned to the Father, both will come and (together with the Spirit, 16f) make 'abode' with him in delightful, permanent intimacy (Prv 8:31; Is 62:5). In John 6:56 the abiding is Eucharistic, in 14:2, heavenly, here mystical, requiring no qualifications save sincere love of Jesus. Through grace the living presence of the Trinity inhabits the hearts of the faithful. From John's perspective, God dwells in the saints on earth before the saints dwell in God in heaven (14:2-3; Rev 21:22; CCC 260). The Holy Spirit provides an accurate understanding of the Gospel for the Apostles (16:12-13) and works through the Sacraments to renew the world with the graces and blessings that Christ died to give us.

In v. 26, the terms 'you' and 'your' are both plural and thus it constitutes a promise to guide and instruct the ordained leaders of the Church, here represented by the eleven Apostles. It is not a promise that the Spirit will grant every individual Christian supernatural insight into the full meaning of the Gospel or the Scriptures; as St. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:20:
"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation".
Jesus offers His peace, not a worldly peace, which is often procured by violence and os always unstable, but a spiritual serenity that comforts us regardless of our outward circumstances. 
The Son is equal to the Father in His divinity but less than the Father in His humanity. Although no one of the Divine Persons exceeds the others in greatness or glory in the eternal Trinity, there is a relational hierarchy among them, where, unlike the Son and the Spirit, the Father alone possesses divine Paternity and has the distinction of being entirely without origin.

Drawing them all together...

In this Sunday's Scripture readings, we see the great mission extended farther. We now see Paul and Barnabas dealing with a rapidly expanding and changing situation as their evangelisation draws in increasing numbers of converts. The inevitable complications and controversies brought by human beings make the situation difficult, as issues of belief now need explication. The need to deal with these complex issues requires consultation, election, deliberation and direction. The joy and love mentioned in the two previous weeks must now have further direction in the Holy Spirit. There is a sense of the body of believers being in touch in a communion of love and understanding, i.e. the Church. The Psalm, a work of harvest celebration, now becomes a celebration of the nationwide, worldwide, universal extent of God's dominion. It is further enriched by a hopeful vision of the future, the future gloriously transformed and transfigured in the promise of the new Jerusalem. The new creation of mind and hearts looks to not, based as it is in the truth of witness of the Risen One. How was that for drawing them all together in one paragraph?

The confusion of diversity can find clarity only in the truth revealed in Jesus: only His words can make sense of our experience of life. He has commanded us to love one another, and He tells us today that only by listening to His words can we truly love Him. Love is His word, and this leads us on to the mystery that the Word is love. The extent of this mystery is even greater, because this links us with the Father, since the Word belongs to the One who sent Him. Jesus is God's creative and saving action. God's Word is efficacious and does not fail to accomplish its' purpose. The understanding of this saving Word is further guaranteed by the power of the Spirit, the medium of this perfect communion of love, and God's presence in every believer's heart. The Spirit represents the continued presence of the Risen LORD on earth. This is the mystery of Ascension and Pentecost and Trinitarian salvation. The joy and the love are now consolidated in peace, the peace Jesus first gives, the peace of one who knows the Father's love, and loves in return, the peace that is the fullness of life and love: Word, love, Spirit, peace. 
"The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you."

Face of Jesus from the Shroud of Turin


Bibliography:

Baker, K., SJ, Inside the Bible, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998.
Barret, C. K., Acts a Shorter Commentary, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2002.
Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, New York: Paulist Press, 1984.
Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament, New York, Doubleday, 1997.
Brown, R. et al (Ed) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (London: Chapman, 2000).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Dodd, C.H., The Founder of Christianity, (London: Collins, 1978).
Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991).
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, (London: Nelson, 1969).
Hahn, S., The Lamb's Supper (London: DLT, 1999).
Harrington, W. J., John: Spiritual Theologian (Dublin: The Columbia Press, 2007).
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001).
Kereszty, R., O. Cist., Jesus Christ—Fundamentals of Christology (New York: Alba, 2010).
Kreeft, P., You Can Understand The Bible, (San Francisco, Ignatius, 2005).
Letellier, R., Sunday & Feastday Sermons Cycles A, B, and C, (New York: St. Pauls, 2011).
Magnificat Monthly Vol. 3, No. 8/ May 2013.
McKenzie, J.L., Dictionary of the Bible, (New York, Touchstone, 1995).
Ratzinger, J., Introduction to Christianity, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004).
Ratzinger, J., Jesus of Nazareth, (Bloomsbury, London, 2007).

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