The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year A
ACTS 2:42-47 The new faith community needed a specific
organizational structure to maintain itself. To this end some very
practical steps were taken: Instruction by the apostles, the building of
friendships, a communal meal and worship. The sharing of resources was of
particular importance. Most of the early converts were from the poorer
classes rather than the wealthy. Note that they were still accepted as
faithful Jews. The formal break with Judaism came at a much later date,
nearly fifty years in the future.
PSALM 23 Ancient tradition and a title in the Hebrew
scriptures claimed that this favorite psalm was from the hand of David,
Israel's shepherd king. Though not entirely impossible, it is unlikely.
Reference to the Lord’s house in verse 6 indicates a later date, since the
temple was not built until after David had died.
1 PETER 2:19-25 When first written, no scripture passages were
divided into chapters, verses, paragraphs or sentences. This reading
omits verse 18, which modern versions put as the first sentence of a new
paragraph. It speaks of slavery as acceptable in the early church. What
follows is an exhortation to follow the example of Christ in bearing
unjust punishment and suffering. The last two sentences, verses 24-25,
make a direct reference to Isaiah 53:6-12.
JOHN 10:1-10 We have here words which may not be directly from
Jesus, but are John's own interpretation of who Jesus was in the light of
the many Old Testament references to God as the shepherd of Israel.
Nonetheless, they speak to us of the ultimate significance of faith in
Jesus as the way to abundant and eternal life. Abundant living can be
defined only by the depth and meaning of one’s spirituality, not in purely
materialistic terms characteristic of the attitudes of some sincere
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:
ACTS 2:42-47 What we have in Acts, of course, is information gathered,
organized, edited or created by a generation Christian wishing to pass on
to his reader(s) (Acts 1:1) a favorable impression of the apostolic church
as a creditable institution of no danger to the empire. Scholars
generally attribute the work to the same author as the Gospel of Luke and
treat the two books as a combined narrative. “Luke” also sought to
explain why a Jewish religion should be of interest to Gentiles. By the
time Luke wrote (ca. 75-80 CE), it had become obvious that the return of
Christ would not happen as soon as first anticipated. Luke=s chief concern
lay in the development of the church, not in the second coming of Christ
A minority of scholars attributes Acts to a second or even third
generation Christian writing early in the 2nd century when the church
sought to establish an institutional identity and recount its early
history when apostles Peter and Paul each had their own proponents as the
major evangelistic leader who shaped that history.
Either position must regard the Holy Spirit as the chief protagonist of
the book, not the apostles. The problem lay in how to describe this >hero.=
So Luke chose to describe the AActs of the Spirit@ by telling how the
Spirit=s >helpers= performed because of this inspiration. Notably, they
were always successful under the protection of the Spirit; nothing ever
went wrong or bad situations always turned out satisfactorily.
This passage describes how the new faith community met the need for a
specific organizational structure to maintain itself. Some very practical
steps were taken: instruction of new converts by the apostles, the
building of friendships, a communal fellowship meal and worship. The
sharing of resources had particular significance. Most of the early
converts were from the poorer classes rather than the wealthy. Note that
they were still accepted as faithful Jews with free access to the temple
(vs. 46). The formal break with Judaism came at a much later date, nearly
fifty years in the future of events described here, but close to the time
when Luke wrote. Was Luke actually trying to persuade Theophilus,
presumably a Roman and perhaps with some influence, of the church=s
independence from its Jewish milieu, a tribal community which had always
been troublesome for the Romans?
In his 1955 volume *The Apostolic Age*, Professor George Caird discussed
the problem that holding Aall things in common@ created for the early
church. Some members like Barnabas had been very generous (4:34-37);
others like Ananias and Sapphira had resisted the Spirit and held back
some of their proffered possessions. (5:1-11) There also appears to have
been a conflict about the sharing of food between Jews and Gentiles (6:1-
6). Caird came to the conclusion that this was an on-going process, not a
single concerted action. There was no Asocialism@ in the apostolic church.
Then as now, the church was still learning from the Spirit how to be truly
faithful to their risen Lord in economic matters as in spiritual
PSALM 23 Ancient tradition and a title in the Hebrew scriptures claimed
that this favorite psalm was from the hand of David, Israel's shepherd
king. Though not entirely impossible, it is unlikely. Reference to the
“house of the Lord” in verse 6 indicates a later date, since the temple
was not built until after David had died.
On the whole, the metaphor of the divine shepherd appeared in many OT
references (Ps. 100:3; Ezek. 34; 37:24). This should not surprise us
because the ancient Israelites to whom the OT authors looked for their
definitive traditions were primarily a pastoral people with their chief
wealth represented by their flocks. During their early history, they
depended on flocks of sheep for most aspects of their livelihood including
food, clothing, tent, a medium of exchange and the central offering of
ritual sacrifice. Even today in the thoroughly urbanized state of Israel,
one can still see Palestinian shepherds with their large flocks on
hillsides within a very short distance of Jerusalem and Jericho.
There is a second metaphor which memory frequently overlooks in reciting
this psalm. Vs. 5 transfers the scene to the obligatory hospitality which
every Middle Eastern pastoral society extended to anyone fleeing from
enemies. Tribal feuds caused many such flights. A hunted man merely had
to touch the tent of anyone with whom he might seek refuge to lay upon his
host the requirement of providing sanctuary and sustenance. As seen by
the psalmist, the divine host provides far more than is necessary: indeed
a feast with sweet unguents poured on his head and an overflowing wine
The scene again changes to the temple (vs. 6) where the psalmist expresses
his delight in continuing to worship as long as life lasts. While this
psalm is a favorite for use in modern funerals services when Adwelling in
the house of the Lord@ becomes a heavenly image for us, the psalmist
considered death as a terminal point to be avoided if at all possible (vs.
4). Nevertheless, who can gainsay the measure of comfort which people
still find in this most familiar of Psalms.
1 PETER 2:19-25 When first written, scripture passages were not divided
into chapters and verses, nor into regular paragraphs and sentences. The
selected reading omits verse 18, which modern versions put as the first
sentence in a new paragraph. It refers to slavery as acceptable in the
early church. It also renders much of what follows somewhat irrelevant.
Slavery was, after all, the economic base of Roman society during the early
Christian era. Does it not seem inappropriate to cleanse our scripture
readings of verses which we wish to ignore, perhaps because they may not be
applicable to our modern political economy or just make us uncomfortable?
Or is the injustice of which the passage speaks also applicable to the
millions of refugees of our time?
This selection comes early in the hortatory section of the letter (2:11-
4:11) dealing with the duties of Christians in the world as it was at the
time the letter was written. It exhorts the new converts, many of whom
would have been slaves, to follow the example of Christ in bearing unjust
punishment and suffering. Today, such an attitude is problematic, to say
the least. Yet in the past few weeks of 2005 we have seen it powerfully
revealed in two very publicly displayed deaths of two people Terri
Schindler-Schaivo and Pope John Paul II.
Although Jesus has sometimes been described as both a political and
religious revolutionary, this passage seems to warn against resisting the
evils of slavery. One of the causes of the fall of Rome identified by
historians was the empire=s dependency on a slave economy. Yet, here we
have the church allying itself with the contemporary system much as we do
in relation to capitalism today.
In the last few sentences, vss. 21-25, there is a direct reference to
Isaiah 53:4-12. The two passages can be compared almost word for word.
The early church searched the ancient prophecies of Israel for anything
they perceived as references to Christ. Obviously, the Servant/Messiah,
which they interpreted as the meaning of that passage, have great
significance for them. The imitation of Christ has been a powerful motif
for Christian behavior since NT times.
In the closing words of vs. 25, the author changes the metaphor from
servant to shepherd, a title found in the gospels and presumably one which
Jesus applied to himself. But there is a further extension of the
metaphor. The Greek text links *poimén* (shepherd) with *episkopos* (KJV
= bishop; NRSV = guardian). Could this have any relation to the
developing institutional church of the 2d century or is it simply a
limitation of the knowledge of Greek among the 17th century KJV
translators? The later church developed the concept of its spiritual
leaders on as guardians of the faith on Christ=s behalf. It received its
most extensive application in the view of apostolic succession of the
priesthood and the papal role as AVicar of Christ.@ This concept of
ministry still exists in many parts of the church in the 21st century.
JOHN 10:1-10 Would Jesus have spoken of himself in such words as these?
Or is this John's own interpretation of who Jesus is in the light of Old
Testament references to God as the shepherd of Israel? The claims in vss.
7, 9 and 11, AI am the gate for the sheep... I am the good shepherd,@
suggest that John created this discourse following his consistent model
represented by several other AI am...@ statements (light - 9:5; living
water - 4:10; bread of life - 6:48; true vine - 15:1; the way, the truth
and the life - 14:6; the resurrection and the life - 11:25).
All of these statements have theological rather than historical
significance. They relate directly to the purpose of the gospel to elicit
faith in Jesus as the Word who became flesh, the Christ and Son of God.
It is not a mistake to regard them as remembered sayings of Jesus himself.
Nonetheless, we must remember that John wrote for an audience of second
and third generation Christians and catechumens some sixty years after the
resurrection. His concern was to bring many who had not seen Jesus in the
flesh to a strong faith effective for a life of discipleship. He believed
that the risen and glorified Christ was now alive in every Christian
believer. However we regard them, these statements speak to us of the
ultimate significance of faith in Jesus as the way to an abundant life of
discipleship here and now, and eternal life in the age to come (vs. 10).
In the details of this passage we also find an understanding of the life
of humble Palestinian shepherds far removed from our romantic but highly
urbanized view of what a shepherd=s life was like. Every village in the
Judean uplands had a common sheepfold where flocks found shelter at night,
especially in winter. Stealing sheep was not unknown. Thieves, whether
human or animal, would not usually enter by the gate, but over or through
a breach in the wall (vss. 1-2). Every morning each shepherd stood at the
gate and called his own sheep from the communal flock. Responding only to
their own shepherd=s peculiar call, the sheep filed out to be led away to
feed wherever pasture could be found (vss. 3-5). Often it was necessary
to lead the flocks far into the hills to forage for grass. If too far
from the village to return at night, the shepherd sheltered his flock out
on the hills in a rude fold with low stone walls. But there was no gate,
so the shepherd himself lay down across the opening to protect his flock
from marauding animals or thieves (vss. 7-9).
Shepherds were not highly regarded in the social strata of the ancient
world. One reason for this lay in the unique odor by which they could be
easily identified because they spent so much time with their sheep.
Uneducated in a formal sense and frequently exposed to dangers few others
would risk, not many sophisticated urban Jews would feel comfortable in
their company. To appreciate this humble existence to such an extent as
to call himself Athe good shepherd@ speaks of the empathy Jesus might well
have had for the Galilean shepherds whom he knew intimately. It is
difficult not to believe that this is not just a vignette with which the
evangelist was familiar, but the recollection, albeit theologically
interpreted, of Jesus himself.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.