Short background notes based on the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC) and the footnotes of the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), primarily meant for this parish. Not intended as instant sermonettes, simply starting points for a brief explanation of the readings at weekday Mass. Disagreement may be more useful. Contact email@example.com
Acts 6. 8 – 15
The first reading for today and tomorrow give the martyrdom of St Stephen, omitting the great speech 7. 2 – 50). Luke creates a parallel with the trial of Jesus to the point of including here details which the other synoptics include in Christ’s trial. What matters is not the death of Stephen for its own sake, but that in him the signs of the passion are continued. The transfiguration of Stephen as his enemies saw it is associated with the radiance of the face of Moses.
John 6. 22 – 29
The beginning of a discourse that can easily be understood in terms of the Eucharistic. It is truer to the text, however, to read it in terms of faith that Jesus is the one sent from God, Jesus’ word of revelation (NJBC).
Acts 7. 51 – 8.1
Stephen’s charge that his accusers are in the same category as their ancestors who rejected the prophetic message emphasises by implication that the Church is the new Israel. His stoning is not a mere lynching, which would not involve witnesses. It refers back to the requirement of Leviticus 24. 14 and Numbers 15. 35f that execution should happen outside the camp (city): here it is prophet-murder (NJBC).
That the Hellenists were scattered was not a loss but the beginning of missionary work. This connects with the saying about the blood of the martyrs being the seed of the Church.
John 6. 30 – 35
“He who eats my flesh” etc recalls Jesus as the personification of the Wisdom of God who calls all to her table. The Eucharistic understanding of the self-giving Jesus depends on the acceptance of him as the bread given us by God.
Acts 8. 1 – 8
The not too obvious theme behind this passage is Luke’s interest in connecting the mission of the Hellenists with the teaching of the apostles in Jerusalem. The appeal of Philip’s preaching is through miraculous healings, which leads us to the omitted passage about Simon Magus. The tension between an orthodox approach to religious faith and a more instinctual approach has its equivalent today in the appeal of the commercialised “mind, body and spirit” movements which come and go but which still appeal to some disillusioned Catholics.
John 6. 35 – 40
(NJB) The lectionary uses the last verse of yesterday’s reading as the introduction to today’s. When in St John Jesus says “I am ….”, there is a reference to the manifestation of God to Moses (“I am who I am”), but it also serves as the introduction to an explanation to what went before: the feeding of the five thousand is not simply a miracle but a parable, and here Our Lord elucidates it the feeding as about himself.
“Coming” to Jesus is to believe in him; “seeing” is to recognise him as the Son sent by the Father.
Acts 8. 26 – 40
The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is as significant as St Peter’s baptism of Cornelius and his household in ch 10. Philip is led by the Spirit and so is as much part of the divine plan as the missionary work of the apostles. That the Ethiopian was a eunuch should have excluded him from Israel (Deut. 23. 1). More importantly in this context is that Philip was directed by the Spirit on to the road to Gaza and the wilderness. The Ethiopian came from the edges of the known world, a significant detail in terms of the inclusive missionary work of the Church.
John 6. 44 – 51
(The lectionary omits three verses which describe his listeners as complaining about him: as the Israelites did in the wilderness.) Some texts add to the last verse “that I shall give”, which is to be understood anyway. The reference is to the Passion. The same concision is found in 1 Cor 11 but omitted in Matthew and Mark on the institution of the Eucharist. “For the life of the world”: the effect of Jesus’ self-giving is universal; the feeding of the Israelites coming out of Egypt.
Acts 9. 1 – 20
Unlike the subsequent accounts in chs 22 and 26, this is the account of a conversion rather than a vocation (NJBC). It is a continuation of the missionary theme. The announcement of the special role of Saul is to reassure Ananias, who does not pass it on to Saul.
John 6. 52 – 59
This is an extremely complicated passage which involves references to the unity of the Church and the relationship between the Father and the Son. “The living Father” is an unusual expression: the Father is the source of life.
Acts 9. 31 – 42
The lectionary omits the passage about the initial missionary work of St Paul, including his clash with the Hellenist Jews, referred to simply as the Hellenists who were the most active opponents of Christian propaganda rather than the Hellenist Christians, the most active proselytisers (NJB).
The focus here returns to Peter, with two miracles with obvious connections to the miracles of Christ: Peter says explicitly “Jesus Christ cures you.” This Peter-Christ connection is a necessary prelude to the conversion of Cornelius. If St Paul, a Jew of the Diaspora, had been left by Luke as the sole apostle to the Gentiles, the continuity of the Church would have been broken. Peter as the key person vis-à-vis the conversion of the gentile Cornelius represents the fulfilment of the divine plan for Israel.
John 6. 60 – 69
The reference to disagreement is not within the community of the Jews but of the disciples. The point of disagreement is uncertain. It looks as if the disciples cannot take the Eucharistic language with its associations with the unity of the community , but the evangelist returns to the Ascension, the unity between the Father and the Son.
In St Peter’s confession of faith, the emphasis for the synoptics is on the Messianic nature of Christ. St John take this as a given. St Peter’s faith, expressed on behalf of the others, in the divine origin of Jesus, which includes and goes beyond the purely Jewish approach.
EASTER WK 4
Acts 11. 1 – 18
The lectionary skips the actual conversion of Cornelius and moves straight to Peter’s justification in Jerusalem. It is obviously a key moment in the history of the Church. Equally obviously, the belief that the title of People of God belongs primarily to the Jewish Christians still hung around although the decisive understanding for the full inclusion of Gentiles without all the requirements of the Law had been reached.
The temptation of exclusivity is permanent. There is a direct line between the acceptance of Cornelius’ household and the saying of Bishop Christopher Butler at the second Vatican Council that we know where the Holy Spirit is, but we can’t say where he is not. Even a document as towering as Lumen Gentium is ignored in parts of the contemporary Church.
John 10. 1 – 10
The beginning of the teaching on Christ as the Good Shepherd. The image of Shepherd and sheep is common in the synoptics and goes back to the belief in God as the Shepherd of Israel. One of the important moments in the fourth Gospel is the restoration of Peter: “Feed my sheep. “ The idea of Jesus as the gate may refer to Ps 118 which is the last of the processional psalms for the feast of Dedication (see tomorrow): 118.20 refers to the gate of Yahweh.
TUESDAY 21st April
Acts 11. 19 – 26
After the accounts of the conversion of Saul and Cornelius, St Luke now returns to the story of the Hellenists who fled from Jerusalem to Antioch. Antioch, capital of the Roman province of Syria, was the third city of the empire after Rome and Alexandria (NJBC).
John 10. 22 – 30
Jesus is asked to say “openly” whether he is the Messiah, not in parables. He has already made this sufficiently clear. In the synoptics, it is the High Priest who asks him this at his trial. Jesus changes the question from who he is to how receptive they are to the truth.
Acts 12. 24 – 13. 5
The lectionary omits the arrest and deliverance of Peter. We now have the beginning of the first missionary journey of Paul.
John 12. 44 – 50
The lectionary skips forward to the period immediately before the Passion and continues on the theme of belief and unbelief. While faith is a gift, it is offered to all and the refusal of faith is a matter of personal responsibility. The power of this saying is all the more powerful for its resonance with Deut. 18.18f.
Acts 13. 13 – 25
We skip a passage about Paul blinding the charlatan. It contains a reference to Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit which puts him at the same level as Peter and Stephen.
Today’s reading is the first half of Paul’s only missionary sermon to Jews; here he summarises Old Testament promise.
John 13. 16 – 20
This should be read in the context of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles at the last supper.
FRIDAY 24th Feast of St Mellitus
Acts 13. 26 – 33
This has much the same content as Peter’s earlier preaching: the rejection and resurrection of Jesus.
John 14. 1 – 6
The Father’s house is a traditional expression for heaven, also described in apocalyptic terms as being reached by a heavenly journey. Jesus cuts through the idea of the journey by asserting himself as the way. He is not a guide or a means of achieving heaven; faith itself in him is the way, the truth and life itself.
This reading is frequently chosen for funerals; it is more appropriately understood as applying to the living.
SATURDAY (St Mark)
Acts 13. 44 – 52
Paul moves on to preach to the Gentiles. We are away.
John 14. 7 – 14
The evangelist continues the theme of the unity between the Father and the Son., and this moves on to a series of promises to the disciples.