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 2. 14, 22 – 32
The basis of the message to the Jews. Luke here proclaims the triumph of the human Jesus who has become Lord by his resurrection.
Matthew 28. 8 – 15
The woman are apostles to the apostles (NJBC) with testimony credible precisely because it is discountable in rabbinic law. This part of the reading also contains elements of forgiveness: the disciples are referred to as brothers.
The part about the subversion of the soldiers reflects a clash between Jews who accepted the possibility of resurrection and those who did not: Pharisees and Sadducees.
Acts 2. 36 – 41
Being baptised in the name of Jesus Christ does not necessarily reflect liturgical practice; it certainly reflects faith in the work of Jesus in us through baptism.
Peter is addressing some Jews: the repentance is from failure of faith in the fulfilment of the scriptures and in the promise contained in them. The rite of baptism of adults today focuses on sin and repentance, which presumably should be read in these terms.
(Not that lack of faith can be equated with sinfulness tout court. The key is refusal of faith when it arises. And the object of refused faith can be the teaching of Christ especially in terms of charity and service, a refusal which can also be present in believers. Francois Mauriac’s novel La Pharisienne gives a striking example of this, and many other examples can be found in fiction. Not the sort of thing that can be explained to many people who wish to be baptised. )
John 20. 11 – 18
Rabbuni is stronger than rabbi and could be used when speaking to God, thus comparable to Thomas’ profession of faith. The other key aspect of today’s reading is that Jesus’ return is not simply to the disciples (as in yesterday’s Gospel) but to the Father. For John, the resurrection, ascension and gift of the Spirit are not a series of events but aspects of his glorification and continued presence with the disciples in another reality.
Acts 3. 1 – 10
Between yesterday’s reading and today’s, there is a reference to the signs and miracles of the apostles, the result of the outpouring of the Spirit foreseen by Joel. The name of Jesus is equivalent to his power. Jesus empowers Peter to heal the cripple.
Luke 24. 13 – 35
Faith as a journey, and faith as seeing: the restoration of the two disciples.
Acts 3. 11 – 26
The emphasis is on the fulfilment of God’s work through the prophets. Jesus as the one who leads to life would have recalled Moses.
Luke 24. 35 – 48
The NJBC, giving specific LXX and NT references, says that “before them” should properly be translated “at their table”, the point being not the reality of the Lord’s body but Jesus’ victory over death symbolised by the renewal of table fellowship with his disciples. A key point for weekday Mass. This is also a good moment to emphasise the importance of the Liturgy of the Word.
Today’s reading also brings in Luke’s universalism and the continuity between Christ’s preaching and that of the Church. It helps to remember the Biblical understanding of sin as unfaithfulness. “You are witnesses” indicates more than the Eleven, and in Luke this includes the women.
Acts 4. 1 – 12
Historically, the books say, this is a mess but the basic theme of the preaching is clear enough.
John 21. 1 – 14
A richly complicated addition to the Gospel. For the purposes of weekday Mass, there is the extravagance of the catch, echoing the wedding at Cana and the miraculous feedings. The main point, however, is probably the Eucharistic setting of the resurrection appearance.
Acts 4. 13 – 21
The rather pale word “assurance” (NJB fearlessness, boldness) is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit which occurs elsewhere, especially at the end of the Acts.
Mark 16. 9 – 15
Again, an add-on which summarises various traditions. The key role of Mary Magdalene comes first. The confusion of her with the “fallen woman” was canonised, so to speak, by Leo the Great. Her importance, of course, lies here as the first witness to the risen Christ.
EASTER WEEK 2
Acts 4. 23 – 31
A tremendous account of the prayer of the community in the face of persecution. It includes an interpretation of Psalm 2 which is not repeated in the New Testament.
John 3. 1 – 8
It is essential to remember that the 4th Gospel is deliberately written in the light of the resurrection rather than as an account of Jesus’ ministry. The readings of the next two days makes it clear that this dialogue is primarily about faith rather than baptism, and faith in the glorified Christ.
Acts 4. 32 -37
This is a summary of the life of the early Christian communities, focusing on the sharing of goods. It reflects Luke’s concern with the pooling of resources and sacrificing possessions. This is much more than an example of admirable conduct: Luke connects it with the works of the apostles which demonstrated the power of the resurrection.
John 3. 7 – 15
The fourth Gospel is much denser than the synoptics, and so it is more difficult to be selective for the purposes of the Mass. Today, the salient points are first the references to witnesses and evidence, a recurring theme throughout the Gospel culminating in Jesus’ sayings to Pilate: it gives John “the form of a vast trial” (NJB); secondly, the divine authority of Jesus; thirdly, Jesus as the source of life, an attribute of God.
Acts 5. 17 – 26
We skip the scary passage about Anna and Sapphira and another summary of the miracles of the apostles. Release from captivity is a sign in Jewish literature of God’s protection.
John 3. 16 – 21
“In the [Dead Sea Scrolls], ‘do the truth’ is an idiom for being righteous. Responsiveness to the truth is a function of one’s righteousness” (NJBC).
2012. Added at the Mass. Gosp John dealing largely with X’s authority. Background of occupation, other religions etc. Dialogue with Nicodemus: what has X got over the true faith? Our Lord expanding N’s view. “Doing the truth” from Dead Sea Scrolls communities presumably recognised. 21st century issue as well. Equality of faiths? Anders Breivik on trial, believed he did the truth. 4th Gospel the truth in Christ, not just his teaching but himself.
Act 5. 27 – 33
St Peter and the apostles use the phrase “hanged him on a tree”, a reference to Deuteronomy 21.22, which puts the death of crucifixion in the context of the Law, used, according to the apostles, to murder the Saviour. St Paul used the same reference, but to declare the means of salvation outside the law; St Luke uses it to emphasise magnitude of the people’s shame (NJBC).
John 3. 31 – 36
The lectionary omits a part of John’s speech which is made difficult by ambiguities. This passage leaves the matter of John’s position and summarises Jesus’ role as the one in whom is the authority and power of God. It is rooted in the reality of the world: hence the reference to the conflict between faith and unbelief.
Acts 5. 34 – 42
Gamaliel’s intervention brings the Sanhedrin back to the principle of the Law: an instrument of God’s will, not something that people can use for their personal benefit or to fit their opinions. Respect for law, whether canonical or civil, is a Christian requirement.
The end of today’s reading emphasises the bravery of the apostles who preach in the face of persecution.
John 6. 1 – 15
The feeding of the five thousand. As well as the association with the Eucharist, this sign has strong connections with the Passover, which the evangelist refers to, and to the succouring by God of his people in the Exodus.
Acts 6. 1 – 7
A rapid transition from an idealised community to one in which there is friction, most probably stemming from language problems: Jews coming back to Jerusalem from the Diaspora would have spoken Greek, separating them from the Aramaic-speaking locals of Jerusalem. Widows from the Diaspora would have been doubly disadvantaged.
The Seven (after the seven nations said to inhabit Canaan? Or from a Jewish town council?) are not called deacons as their work at this point is different from that of later deacons.
It may well be that the reconciliation of the split is described somewhat euphemistically. It is a reminder all the same of the need to maintain the practice of reconciliation at levels in the Church. Not the same as the simple imposition of obedience to a central authority.
John 6. 16 – 21
Jesus walks on the water. Unlike the Synoptics, John does not focus on the faith of the disciples but on the crossing itself – “immediately [the boat] reached the shore. Again, there is a strong connection with the theme of the Passover and the Exodus.