ACTA COMMENTARY on THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER  

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK    Download here >>> Sixth Sunday of Easter Yr 2

There is much to learn from today’s readings simply by looking at the pages in the Lectionary.  Apart from the Gospel the two other readings and the Responsorial Psalm have been abbreviated. There is a warning at the end of the Book of Revelation:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.                  Revelation 22:18-19

While it can be argued that this dire fate applies only to the Book of Revelation, I would advise lectionary designers not to take the chance.  It might be referring to you.

Hearing the Bible read (often quite poorly) in bits and pieces must be regarded as an almost futile exercise.  If listeners do not read our Scriptures regularly and so grow in acquaintance with the individual voices, then the whole choir of God’s holy words will never be appreciated.  If the movement of faith evident in the sweep of the Old Testament does not capture our minds and hearts, then we will never understand who Jesus is and why God has sent his Son to bring the story to its appointed climax.  We need to know the beginning of the story to appreciate the ending.

The readings throughout the Sundays of Eastertide are often abbreviated so that it is impossible to grasp what these voices from the past are saying.  I do not say, “saying to us” because they are not saying anything to us. They are not talking to us. A word of explanation.

The Acts of the Apostles contains sermons given by Peter, Stephen, and Paul.  These sermons do not record the words spoken by these three men. The unknown author of Acts (we know little or nothing about Luke) has composed sermons that reflect the kind of preaching that he believes is true to what these great figures proclaimed.   But the people to whom the author directed his teaching were his contemporaries, not the generation that first heard the preaching of Peter, Stephen or Paul. The issues that concerned our unknown author were the issues that concerned the Christians he met everyday in his time and his place.  The time was probably about 85 A.D. and place was probably Antioch in Syria.

If we read or listen carefully to these ancient sermons we will learn how alike their teaching is in general terms.  They each emphasise the Old Testament build-up to Jesus, stressing the witness of the prophets to what God would accomplish in due course.  Quotations from the ancient Scriptures abound. Only when the witness of Scripture is plainly set out do we reach what God has accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.   What we need to learn is that our path to understanding God’s ways is to follow the way presented in these ancient sermons to our fathers and mothers in faith.

In our time we need to learn another lesson.  Notice how the sermons of Peter, Stephen, and Paul disagree on many things.  Peter and Paul are keen to go to the Temple to pray. Stephen thinks the Temple has had its day.  There are serious differences concerning whether non-Jews can be admitted to Christian communities, and if they are admitted, must the men be circumcised and every one conform to Jewish dietary requirements.  What we need to realise is that these Christians could disagree on many matters but so long as the essential understanding of Jesus is shared by all, they can agree to differ. The attempt by our Church to force uniformity goes against the grain of true Christian community spirit.  If we read the sermons in Acts carefully we would all learn to grow up.      



THE READINGS

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles          10:25-26.34-35.44-48

Responsorial Psalm                                               Psalm 97:1-4.   R./ v.2

A reading from the first letter of St John                                         4:7-10

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John             15:9-17

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles          10:25-26.34-35.44-48

And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.   … So Peter opened his mouth and said:  “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  … While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking I n tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

The word of the LORD.

The whole story of Cornelius’ invitation to Peter to come to his house and peter’s vision that informed him of God’s will in the matter is told in Acts 10:1-48 and 11:18. Whether Gentiles could be admitted to the community of Christians and, if they were admitted, were they obliged to live as Jews, were burning issues.  Some early Christian churches, founded by Paul, believed there should be no conditions except the necessity of devoting oneself to Jesus. Others demanded full adherence to Jewish laws. Still others were satisfied if pagans observed some, but not all, Jewish demands. In other words it is quite wrong to speak of “the Early Church”, as if there were one monolithic community that imposed uniformity on everyone and on every issue.  What we find are Christian churches with many differences but living in harmony with the Lord Jesus. That is what we need in our time and our place.

Responsorial Psalm                                        Psalm 97 (96):1-4.   R./ v.2

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,

for he has done marvellous things!

His right hand and his holy arm

have worked salvation for him.

R./  The Lord has made known his salvation to the nations.

The Lord has made known his salvation;

he has revealed his righteousness

in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love

and faithfulness

to the house of Israel.

R./  The Lord has made known his salvation to the nations.

All the ends of the earth have seen

the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Sing praises to the Lord.

R./  The Lord has made known his salvation to the nations.



Psalm 97 (96) celebrates the universal outreach of God’s salvation.  God’s steadfast love knows no bounds. God’s love is given to the people of Israel, not as a private keepsake but as a promise that God’s steadfast love is for the whole of creation.   The psalm says in prayer form what the first reading makes clear in word and action. In the words of an American playwright, all God’s chillun got wings!



A reading from the first letter of St John                   4:7-10

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.   

The word of the LORD.



This reading comes from a Christian community or church which is very different than others who shared the story of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Communities which gathered around the Gospel of John as their rule of faith had little or no structure (apostles are not mentioned in John’s Gospel).  There is no inclination to worry about what the great apostles might have done or said. Everything is centred on the Logos, the Word made flesh.  There is no need for a human teacher for the Holy Spirit is given them by Jesus for Jesus.  There is no great emphasis on the Eucharist and there is no Last Supper as in the other three Gospels.  The washing of the feet is central as the symbol of mutual love and service. That is, their whole spirituality is centred on the One who dwelt amongst us and who is experienced through the teaching of the Holy Spirit.  The intensity of their community life is summed up in ”love one another” for that love comes from God through “his only Son so that we could have life through him”. We might regard today’s Gospel as the charter of this amazing but dying community.



A reading from the holy Gospel according to John             15:9-17

As the Father has loved me,

so have I loved you.

Abide in my love.

If you keep my commandments,

you will abide in my love,

just as I have kept my Father's commandments

and abide in his love.

These things I have spoken to you,

that my joy may be in you,

and that your joy may be full.

This is my commandment:

that you love one another

as I have loved you.

Greater love has no one than this,

that someone lay down his life for his friends.

You are my friends

if you do what I command you.

No longer do I call you servants,

for the servant does not know

what his master is doing;

but I have called you friends,

for all that I have heard from my Father

I have made known to you.

You did not choose me,

but I chose you

and appointed you

that you should go and bear fruit

and that your fruit should abide,

so that whatever you ask the Father

in my name,

he may give it to you.

These things I command you,

so that you will love one another.

The Gospel of the LORD.



Following on last Sunday’s Gospel that centred on the allegory of the vine (“I AM the true vine”), today’s Gospel emphasizes that the branches, given life by the True Vine, must bear fruit.  The fruit of the vine is love and love must be the very life of churches dedicated to living the Gospel of John. This love originates with the Father who loves the Son. That love is communicated by Jesus to those who are bound to him as branches are to the vine that gives them life.  For this community there is only one commandment: love one another.

The brief Third Letter of John does not appear in our Lectionary but it illustrates the intensity of the love that bound this esoteric group together.   It is written to one individual, a man called Gaius, who is singled out for praise and commendation. He is a model of hospitality, welcoming travelling missionaries, shunning false teachers, and living by the two basic virtues of love and discernment.   Discernment is, of course, the ability to identify true friends from false teachers. The term “friends” was important in the communities inspired by John. Just as friendship was an important social feature in ancient Greek philosophy and as an ideal in community living, so for John’s communities.  

The word in our reading today for “servant” is doulos.  This means a slave, not a servant.  Jesus is saying, “you are not my slaves; you are my friends”.   In a hierarchical Church it is essential that today’s Gospel seeps into the fabric of our being.  There is no room for them and us. All that his Father has given to him, Jesus gives to his friends.  There is a trinity of friendship: Father, Son, and Friend. Each is bound to the other by a single commandment: love one another.

A few remarks of Pope Francis bring the teaching of Jesus home to us:

The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds.  Pastoral activity needs to bring out more clearly the fact that our relationship with the Father demands and encourages a communion which heals, promotes and reinforces interpersonal bonds.  

The individualism of our postmodern and globalized

era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds.  Pastoral activity needs to bring out more clearly the fact that our relationship with the Father demands and encourages a communion which heals, promotes and reinforces interpersonal bonds.

                                                            The Joy of the Gospel §67

We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people.  

The Joy of the Gospel §63

… the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us   in our  close and continuous interaction.  True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self- giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others.  The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

The Joy of the Gospel §88

The Quakers are more properly named The Society of Friends.  Their inspiration for this title came, of course, from today’s Gospel:  I call you friends.



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Joseph O’Hanlon






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