Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B, April 25, 2021
The original audience of the book of Acts were Greek converts to Christ. They were curious about how a religion that had started among Jews had come to embrace them. Saint Luke tells how Peter's strong preaching of Jesus made Jewish leaders draw the line.
For a community torn apart by the exaggerated claims of some of its dissident members, John writes a soothing solution. Just as Jesus went unrecognized by many, so the true believers are misunderstood. And contrary to the claims of some to have special knowledge of the ways of God, there are things yet to be revealed to anyone.
For the same community, John gives a picture of Jesus' tender care for his followers, and a clear statement that authority belongs to him because he obeys his Father and is self-sacrificing for his flock.
The Historical Situation: Here's the introduction to Acts that Lector's Notes first borrowed on the recent Fourth Sunday of Advent, from scholar Jerome Kodell, O.S.B, in The Collegeville Bible Commentary -- New Testament (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), paraphrased:
|Saint Luke wrote for an audience quite different from those of Mark and Matthew, different, too, from the Thessalonians and many other recipients of Paul's letters. Luke's readers lived a generation or more later than the apostles, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., and outside the Holy Land. They had never been Jews. They were cosmopolitan, middle-class and Gentile, living in a skeptical society, yet attracted to a religion with long historic Jewish roots. But that new religion only came to its fulfillment by reaching out to all humankind. To tell that story, to ground his audience in their adopted religious heritage, and to keep them focused on the religion's mission, Luke needed to tell the story of Jesus anew in this gospel, and needed a second book, the Acts of the Apostles.|
The Literary and Liturgical Setting: The editors of the Lectionary seem to want to give us another forceful proclamation of salvation through the risen Christ. But Luke was giving his readers that in context. In chapter 1 of Acts, Jesus ascends to heaven and the apostles choose a successor to Judas. In chapter 2, the Holy Spirit descends, the crowds are amazed to hear the disciples prophesy in many languages, Peter gives his first speech about Jesus, and the disciples live in harmony. In chapter 3, Peter cures a cripple, to the amazement of many, so Peter evangelizes them. This prompts the temple guards to arrest them (in the first verses of chapter 4) and haul them before the leaders, elders, scribes, et alii. Today's reading is part of Peter's defense.
The original readers of Acts (see above) would have found here:
Proclaiming It: Do your listeners the favor of putting in context Peter's words "we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple." Before starting your proclamation, say:
|In the verses prior to today's reading, Peter has invoked the name of Jesus to cure a cripple, then preached to the amazed onlookers about Jesus, been arrested for so preaching, and brought before the authorities to explain himself.|
But be Luke, too, the author, hinting to your original readers why Jesus was rejected by those to whom he first came: "then you and all people should know ... He is the stone rejected by you, the builders" (a citation of Psalm 118:22). For Jesus is still rejected today, and not just by Jews. Today's Christians should no more take that for granted than the first Christians could. It demands explaining, and even more it demands a remedy (but that's for your assembly's homilist to take on).
The Historical Situation: The author of Lector's Notes admits to many years of puzzlement before the terse but pregnant verses of the First Letter of Saint John, which we proclaim on the Sundays of Easter in liturgical year B. But in 2003, I found the following description of the communities who received the original letter, adapted from the Introduction to the letter, in The New American Bible. This clarifies a lot for me, as I hope it does for you. The original recipients are specific Christian communities,
1 John 3:1-2
See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
|That the world "did not know him" refers to points 5 & 6 above. That this prevents the world from recognizing us, too, may be an instance of something found throughout John's writings, the identification of Christ and the Christian community.|
|Beloved, we are God's children now; |
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
|That something important "has not yet been revealed" is a response to those who claim to have received special knowledge about the things of God.|
Proclaiming It: Both verses emphasize that we are God's children, so you should, too. Slow down, then, at "we may be called" [briefest pause] "children of God." [Longer pause] Continue, "Beloved, we are God's children now ..."
In the next clause, emphasize shall because it contrasts what we know with what we don't know. The next sentence is intriguing, is it not? What does it mean to "be like him" and to "see him as he is"? (If you know, you should be writing and I should be reading, but then you'd be a Gnostic and I'd have to disregard your teaching.) Anyway, recite this verse with with a tone that acknowledges the alluring mystery of it.
The Good Shepherd (detail). Unknown artist, in an early 5th-century building in Revenna, Italy, called the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Click here for a 1200-pixel version of the whole work.
Galla Placidia was prominent in the imperial family of the Western Roman Empire in the early 5th century. It's uncertain that the mausoleum named here is really her burial place. Wikipedia calls her a Chalcedonian Christian. Readers of this website are most likely Chalcedonians, too.
The Good Shepherd theme inspires a lot of art less interesting than this. I'm drawn to this by its antiquity. So much so that I used another version of it for this Sunday a year ago. The Web, in its perversity, has reversed the left-right orientation of the image.
This page updated April 24, 2021.