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Introduction To The Scripture For The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Year B
Acts 1:15-17,21-36; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:9-19

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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	
Seventh Sunday of Easter

[NOTE: Some congregations may use this Sunday to celebrate the Ascension of 
Christ. The lessons for that service are  Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; 
Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53 . The  following is a summary and analysis 
of the assigned lessons for the Seventh  Sunday of Easter in the Revised 
Common Lectionary.]


ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26.  When the first company of believers appointed a 
successor to Judas Iscariot, the choice fell on Matthias, one who had 
participated in Jesus' earthly ministry and a witness to the resurrection. 
These were the two qualifications for being an apostle in the early church.  

The full complement of twelve apostles was necessary in order for the 
church to fulfil Old Testament prophecy and the task of proclaiming salvation 
through Jesus Christ until his return.


PSALM 1.  As the prologue to the whole psalter, this psalm describes the kind 
of person who will benefit most from all the hymns of praise, petition and 
lament that follow.  It may have been written intentionally for this purpose 
when the many disparate songs of Israel were being collected into one volume.


1 JOHN 5:9-13.   The heresy which this letter sought to confront denied that 
Jesus of Nazareth and Christ, the Son of God, were the same person.  The 
Christ was supposed to have come to Jesus at his baptism and departed from 
him before his death.

The test of faith was to believe that the human Jesus is the Christ and 
the Son of God in the flesh.  The gift of God to those who believe is eternal 
life in fellowship with God and Jesus.


JOHN 17:9-19.  We can never know whether or not John heard Jesus utter a 
prayer for his disciples something like this.  It is a prayer for us too as 
we live in a world still not rushing to hear of God's saving love.
	
Because he will no longer be with them, the work Jesus has begun rests 
entirely with the disciples.  He prays that they will be kept safe by the 
power of the Holy Spirit; that they will experience the fullness of joy in 
their ministry; and that they will be committed to God despite all the 
pressures upon them.

************

ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26.   This passage tells us of the first company of 
believers appointing a successor to Judas Iscariot. Much scholarly discussion 
has occurred regarding the number and post-resurrection role of disciples. 
The Gospels and Acts maintain that there were twelve, but most of these do 
not appear in the narrative except to be listed. The lists vary in different 
Gospels as does the definition of what "disciple" means. In Mark and Luke, 
the term is more limited than in Matthew, who included anyone who is a 
follower of Jesus. The late British scholar, B.H. Streeter, claimed that the 
post-resurrection disappearance of the twelve is "one of the great mysteries 
of history." 

Most 20th century New Testament scholars hold that the twelve were called and 
commissioned by Jesus himself to be missionary preachers, i.e. "apostles." 
Some redaction critics such as the late Professor Heinz Guenther, formerly of 
Emmanuel College, Toronto, questions the historicity of this claim. 
Guenther's *The Footprints of the Twelve in Early Christian Traditions* ( 
Peter Lang, 1985) found three independent strands of the early tradition 
which "attests to the high pre-synoptic age." Identifying the three strands 
with the pre-Markan, pre-Pauline and Q traditions, he traced the creation of 
the twelve to "the earliest post-Easter period of the Christian community." 
The number twelve is symbolic in both Hellenic and Judaic cultures. "The 
common denominator of all three traditions is that they bespeak of the 
church's new Israel consciousness.... In the service of the church's new 
Israel axiom, the historical, foundational and eschatological implications of 
the symbolic number have each been reactivated by these three early Christian 
traditions."

Guenther also finds no historical validity to the selection of Matthias 
except to replace Judas in order to make up the twelve at the beginning of 
the "Acts of the Apostles." But as soon as he had been appointed, Matthias 
disappeared from the biblical record. None of the apostolic fathers knew 
anything of him either. "In all other areas of his work Luke was well able to 
produce new Christian 'facts' on the basis of his own faith concerns," 
concluded Guenther. "Would those who allegedly informed him of the function 
played by the twelve apostles not also have given him some clues about the 
individual work of Matthias or the earthly activity of the other 'apostles'?" 

Here we are faced with a theologically generated interpretation of the 
apostolic mission.

The full complement of twelve was necessary in order for the church to fulfil 
Old Testament prophecy and the task of proclaiming salvation through Jesus 
Christ until his return.The choice fell on Matthias, one who had participated 
in Jesus' earthly ministry and a witness to the resurrection.  These were the 
two essential qualifications for being an apostle in the early church.  


PSALM 1.  As the prologue to the whole psalter, this psalm describes the kind 
of person who will benefit most from all the hymns of praise, petition and 
lament that follow.  It may have been written intentionally or adapted for 
this purpose from another source when the many disparate songs of Israel were 
being collected into one volume.

The psalmist focuses on a particularly astute and faithful Israelite as the 
typical person who would turn to the Psalms for spiritual sustenance. He 
construes the Psalter as a handbook for the pious whenever historical events 
tested faith. This viewpoint is strengthened by the fact that Jesus himself 
was depicted in the Gospels as quoting from or interpreting the Psalms, 
especially during his Passion. Other NT authors frequently quoted from the 
Psalter to substantiate their claim that Christians are the New Israel.

The psalm is didactic and belongs to the time of Ezra or later when the whole 
nation was seen as a religious community under assault by heathen religious 
traditions. Zeal for the law had become the mark of the righteous man. No one 
could escape a divine reckoning of their behaviour determined by adherence to 
or departure from Torah. Yahweh was ever mindful of what each person did and 
judged him or her accordingly. Woe to the person who scoffed at the 
inevitability of such judgment. 

The simile of the productive fruit trees by streams of water had poignant 
local interest. In the arid climate of Palestine irrigation is essential. 
Water lies at the core of the Middle Eastern political negotiations for 
peace. The whole region once known as the Fertile Crescent, home to three 
great religious traditions, could be fruitful and prosperous if the limited 
water supply could be equitably shared.

The simile of chaff blown before the wind presents the very opposite image. 
In ancient times and as recently as pioneer days in North America, thrashing 
was done by flail. This instrument consisted of two sticks loosely tied 
together by a leather thong. One was held tightly in the hands - much like a 
baseball bat. The other was swung down on the grain with stalks and heads 
still attached and spread thinly on a stone floor. Then the grain and chaff 
were gathered in baskets and flung into the air so that heavier grain would 
fall to the floor while the wind blew the chaff away. The chaff described the 
moral and spiritual instability of  the person who did not follow the Torah.


1 JOHN 5:9-13.   As we have seen in earlier comments on 1 John, the heresy 
which this letter sought to confront denied that Jesus of Nazareth and 
Christ, the Son of God, were the same person.  The unorthodox held that 
Christ was supposed to have come to Jesus at his baptism and departed from 
him before his death. They thus removed from Jesus the redemptive function of 
his death and the symbolic efficacy of Christian baptism into his death.

 The community to whom John wrote may well have been experiencing a conflict 
that led to schism over this issue. The test of true faith was to believe 
that the human Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God in the flesh, and that 
his death on the cross had been God's loving way of dealing with human sin.  
As one commentary puts it, " John's blunt repudiation of this heresy is part 
of the great doctrinal struggle the church has often fought to preserve the 
central truth of the gospel - that Calvary reveals the suffering love of God 
as well as the loving suffering of a man." (The Interpreter's Bible. Vol. 
12.293)

If this heresy was, as many scholars presume, an early stage of Gnosticism, 
it placed excessive emphasis on knowledge as the way to confront sin. The 
Christian gospel dealt not so much with a deficiency of knowledge as with the 
corruption of character and the enslavement of the will for selfish ends. 
This has great relevance to our own age which tends to treat human sin as a 
something we can handle on our own without God's intervention. Greater 
knowledge can overcome sin; or we can ignore it as insignificant; or just 
regard it as a source of cynical humour.

This brief excerpt is not easy to understand because it introduces the new 
concept, "testimony."  The Greek word is *marturia* which immediately causes 
us to think of the early martyrs to the faith. Much more than that lay behind 
John's use of the word. Its Hebrew counterpart *ayd* appears throughout the 
OT. The root meaning of the Hebrew verb was "to duplicate or report," as a 
witness would do in court. 

In the Hebrew context the word referred to witnessing to criminal offenses, 
commercial  or property transactions. The Torah prohibited the bearing of 
false witness ( Exod. 20:16; 23:1; Deut. 5:20) and Wisdom literature warned 
against such hypocrisy (Prov. 6:19; 14:25; 19:5, 9; 21:28; 25:18). In 
prophetic literature, Yahweh was frequently called as a witness (1 Sam. 12:5; 
Jer. 29:23; 42:5; Micah 1:2; Mal. 2:14). Most significantly, in Second Isaiah 
43:9-10; 44:8-9 Israel was called to serve as a witness to Yahweh's power as 
Deliverer and Lord of history. It was this role as the suffering servant that 
spoke so deeply to the apostolic community as it undertook its mission. The 
violent end to which many of those early Christians came gave the word its 
present meaning.

John's use of the term recalls both the OT context and the contemporary 
Christian situation. God had testified to the Son in the death and 
resurrection of Jesus. Those who believed might well suffer persecution and 
death as Jesus and many of the apostles had done. Those who denied this 
testimony made God a liar (vs. 10) and forfeited the gift of eternal life God 
gives to those who believe (vss. 11-12) despite whatever persecution they 
might have to suffer. This assurance John could give to a community which had 
not yet been called on to suffer the ultimate consequences of their faith, 
but for whom the threat was nonetheless present.


JOHN 17:9-19.  Known to many as "the high priestly prayer," we can never know 
whether or not John heard Jesus utter a prayer for his disciples something 
like this.  It is a prayer for us as well as we live in a world still not 
rushing to hear of God's saving love.
	
Because he will no longer be with them, the work Jesus had begun rested 
entirely with the disciples.  The whole world was not immediately in Jesus' 
mind, only the few he had gathered about him during his earthly ministry (vs. 
9). Everything depended on their faithfulness. 

There is an ancient legend that when Jesus arrived in heaven that the angel 
Gabriel asked what plans he had made for his work to continue. He replied 
that he had left it all in the hands of the disciples. "And if they fail?" 
asked Gabriel. And Jesus said, "I have no other plans." 

On the whole, the passage has a definite post-resurrection connotation. In 
John's Gospel Jesus' earthly ministry had already been glorified by his death 
and resurrection. The gospel was written to witness to this spiritual reality 
(20:31). Those who wish to use this reading on what is often celebrated as 
Ascension Sunday might well use this approach to the text written at least 60 
years after Jesus glorification.

No longer in the world, Jesus prayed that the disciples would be kept safe as 
he had guarded them in safely while with them (vss. 11-12; 15-16). John did 
not elaborate on how Jesus did this. Does this lend some credibility to the 
speculation that Judas was commissioned to make a deal with Caiaphas to let 
the disciples go when Jesus was arrested?

John did have a very negative attitude toward Judas, but here he had Jesus 
acknowledge the loss of Judas Iscariot. He placed the betrayal in the context 
of an undefined scripture. He may have had Psalm 41:9 or 109:5-9 in mind. 
Acts 1:20 makes specific quotations from Pss. 69:25 and 109:8. These 
references further indicate how the early church found justification for the 
events they had experienced by searching the Hebrew scriptures. For them, the 
scriptures had been fulfilled in the death of Jesus, however that may have 
come about.

Jesus also prayed that the disciples would experience the fullness of joy in 
their ministry in and to the world (vs. 13). This reiterates a theme John had 
first referred to earlier in the farewell discourse (John 15:11; 16:20). The 
theme is faithful to the post-resurrection tradition which marks so much of 
John's Gospel. He knew intimately how the apostolic tradition had been kept 
alive by telling and retelling the story of the joyful news of the 
resurrection. The disciples had witnessed the full revelation of God's love. 
That was the truth which for which they had been sanctified and commissioned 
to report (vs. 17). That is what we too must be about in our ministry today. 

Finally in this excerpt, Jesus prayed that the disciples would be totally 
committed to God despite  all the pressures placed upon them. This would 
appear to be the meaning of the reference to "the evil one" in vs. 17. 
Although John did not include the story of Jesus' own temptations, he 
undoubtedly knew the tradition. In the synoptic gospels, the temptations 
lasted through the whole of Jesus ministry and culminated in the Garden of 
Gethsemane and even on the cross (Mark 15:29-30). Instead, John concentrates 
here on Jesus' sanctification. The Greek verb *agiazeiv* (translated "to 
sanctify") has a sacrificial meaning. Throughout his passion narrative, John 
conveyed the sacrifice of Christ in this sense. Whereas by his own sacrifice 
Jesus sanctified himself, it was by the disciples' belief in the truth of 
what he done that the disciples were to be sanctified. This was entirely in 
keeping with another fundamental apostolic tradition. As Paul had stated it, 
"the just shall live by faith"(Rom. 1:17).

                                              
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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