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Introduction To The Scripture For The Third Sunday of Easter - Year C
Acts 9:1-6; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

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	
The Third Sunday of Easter -  Year C


ACTS 9:1-6               The conversion of Saul of Tarsus marked the
crucial turning point for the early church.  As a multilingual, scholarly
Jewish rabbi of the Diaspora (Jews who lived outside Israel), his
controversy with the Jewish apostolic community in Jerusalem carried the
Gospel beyond its Jewish boundaries.  His many letters to congregations he
founded began the process of creating the uniquely Christian scripture now
forming our New Testament. 


PSALM 30                 This psalm of thanksgiving for recovery from a
near-fatal illness came into liturgical use celebrating  the re-dedication
of the temple after the Maccabean Revolt of 165 BC.  Its references to
deliverance from death make it appropriate for use during Easter.


REVELATION 5:11-14       In John's vision, the Lamb had been given the
authority to open the scroll revealing God's purpose of redeeming all of
creation.  The Lamb symbolized the crucified Christ whose victory over
death began God's final redemption.  The twenty-four elders represent the
task of the church to make God's redemptive purpose known to the whole
world.


JOHN 21:1-19             Scholarly consensus regards this chapter as an
appendix to the Gospel.  Jesus appeared in Galilee to several disciples who
had returned to fishing.  He showed that he had been raised from the dead
by eating with the disciples.  He also restored Peter's leadership in the
apostolic church in the light of Peter's earlier denial.

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

ACTS 9:1-6   The conversion of Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus to
persecute those who believed in Jesus' resurrection marked the crucial
turning point for the Apostolic Church.  Some scholars go so far as to say
that it was the beginning of the church.  They argue that without Paul and
his mission to the Gentiles, the church would have remained a Jewish sect
and would have vanished with the Jerusalem Christian community in the
disastrous Roman-Jewish War of 69-70 CE.  The only other sect of Judaism to
survive were the Pharisees.  Over the next two or three centuries, they
evolved into rabbinic Judaism. 
     
What exactly do we know about Paul?  As a multilingual, scholarly Jewish
rabbi of the Diaspora, he was uniquely equipped to carry the Gospel beyond
its Jewish boundaries.  He was born a Hellenistic Jew in Tarsus, Cilicia
and hence a Roman citizen.  More than likely he was named both Saul and
Paul from birth.  Tarsus was a seaport on the Mediterranean coast of
Cilicia, now southern Turkey.  Paul's family were engaged in commercial
trade, for at times Paul made his living as a "tentmaker" or
"leatherworker." (Acts 18:3)  It was then necessary for a rabbi to have a
trade to live by.  In some respects, however, that was an unusual trade for
a Pharisee to follow.  The Talmud of later rabbinic Judaism regarded
tanning as a disreputable occupation for the devout.  Because of the odours
caused by their work, tanners were forced to live outside the city walls.
Simon the tanner in whose house Peter had a vision of many unclean animals
being declared clean lived by the seaside in Joppa. (Acts 9:43) 

Paul called himself a strict Pharisee. (Phil. 3:5)  A rising party within
Judaism in the first half of the lst century, they assumed the leadership
of the Jewish community after the destruction of the temple.  The
synagogues of the Diaspora became the main centres for their teaching
ministry, as for Paul himself.  According to Acts 22:3, his mentor was
Gamaliel, one of the leading Pharisees of the day.  Gamaliel was a member
of the Sanhedrin, and some have speculated that Paul was too.  It is
unlikely, however, that this council of elite Jews with limited
administrative and policing powers, had yet become the rabbinical court
which later created the codification of rabbinic law in the Talmud and
Mishnah after 200 CE.  More probably, in Paul's time, it had a role of
administering the tax system and restraining the religious fervour of the
recalcitrant Jewish population on behalf of their Roman overlords. 
     
Following his conversion, Paul appears to have had a falling out with the
Pharisees while at the same time making use of his earlier loyalties in his
defense as an apostle. (Acts 15:5 cf. 26:5; Gal. 1:13-14.)  With a mandate
from the high priest to the Jewish synagogues in Damascus, he set out to
bring all the members of the Christian sect he could identify back to
Jerusalem as prisoners for trial before the Sanhedrin.  One commentator has
suggested that Paul's mission to Damascus was "an under-cover operation" in
which the prisoners would have been kidnapped and brought back to Jerusalem
secretly. (Quoted from Hanson, R.P. C. *The Acts,* [Oxford, 1965] in A.N.
Wilson's *Paul: The Mind of the Apostle.* New York: Norton, 1997.)  This
possibility argues strongly for Paul having a responsible position in the
temple police under the authority of the high priest and very closely
aligned with the Roman administration. 
     
En route to Damascus, Paul had an epiphany which he subsequently
interpreted as being met by the risen Christ. (1 Cor. 15:8)  There are
major discrepancies between Luke's version of this experience in Acts 9 and
Paul's own description of it in Galatians 1:11-17.  The two make one point
in common: The Jesus-story was never the same after this "conversion."  As
A.N. Wilson says, "The historicity of Jesus became unimportant the moment
Paul had his apocalypse."  According to Wilson, Paul's genius was that
"with a much broader experience of life in the Mediterranean and witness to
the religious experience of people other than Jews, (Paul) had a richer
language-store, a richer myth-experience, than some of  the other NT
writers, whose mythologies were limited to Jewish liturgy and folk-tale." 
(ibid, p.72-73)     


PSALM 30   This is a psalm of thanksgiving by a single individual for
recovery from a near-fatal illness.  Vss. 1-5 reflect this life-restoring
experience.  The illness had brought him so near to death that his healing
was like redemption from the underworld (vs.3).  Thus his experience had
given him a very personal sense of God's favour as he offered his
thanksgiving.
     
The next segment of the psalm (vss.6-10) draws a picture of the psalmist's
former prosperity and false confidence: "I shall never be moved."  Devout
though he may have been, he had overlooked the possibility that he might
fall from God's favour for no explicable reason other than that God might
frown on him.  This sounds very much like self-righteous justification.  In
his distress, he cried out for help.  His lament went so far as to employ
the ancient belief that a deity with no one to praise him was extinct
(vs.9).  It may reflect an attitude of Israelites regarding their special
covenant relationship with Yahweh.  Anything but the absolute assurance of
Yahweh's favour had never entered their mind.  In the end, it was God's
gracious initiative that saved this Israelite and gave him a new
opportunity to sing God's praise. (vss.10-11)
     
W.R. Taylor, the exegete of this psalm in *The Interpreter's Bible* vol, 4,
p. 158, points to the superscription of the psalm as proof that the psalm
came into liturgical use on the anniversaries of the re-dedication of the
temple after the Maccabean Revolt of 165 BC.  By then it was no longer a
personal hymn of thanksgiving, but had become an expression of the nation's
survival.  Such references to deliverance from death also make it relevant
during the Christian celebration of Easter.


REVELATION 5:11-14   This excerpt from John's vision of the scroll
(vss.1-14) has lent itself to several interpretations.  According to the
late Professor George Caird, of McGill University and Mansfield College,
Oxford, the scroll contains "God's redemptive plan, foreshadowed by the OT,
by which he means to assert his sovereignty over the sinful world and so
achieves the purpose of creation....  The redemptive plan, initiated by the
archetypal victory of Christ, awaits further fulfilment in the victory of
the Conquerors, which will contribute to the final victory of God." (G.B.
Caird. *The Revelation of St. John the Divine.* Black's New Testament
Commentary. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1966. p. 72) 
     
In John's vision, the Lamb had been given the authority to open the scroll
revealing God's purpose of redeeming all of creation.  The Lamb, of course,
symbolized the crucified Christ whose victory over death is the beginning
of God's final redemption.  To make God's redemptive purpose known to the
whole world is the task of the church, "the royal house of priests" drawn
"from every tribe, tongue, people and nation" (vs.10) and here represented
by twenty-four elders (vs.8), twelve for the tribes of the Older Covenant
and twelve for the New Israel, the Church.

Caird notes that John does not think of Christ "as having withdrawn from
the scene of his earthly victory to return only at the Parousia.  Through
his faithful followers he continues to exercise his royal and priestly
functions."  Further, Caird identifies the similarity between John's and
Paul's thinking about the cross: "God has already in the Cross reconciled
the whole universe to himself (Col. 1:20), and... to make his act of
amnesty and reconciliation known to the world is the royal and priestly
task of the church, the success of which is already anticipated in the
heavenly Amen." (ibid, p.77)
     

JOHN 21:1-19   Scholarly consensus now regards this chapter as an appendix
to the Gospel.  Jesus' final post-resurrection appearance took place in
Galilee where several of the disciples had returned to fishing.  William
Barclay clarifies the multiple intent of the chapter: to prove that Jesus
had indeed been raised from the dead; to proclaim the universality of the
church; to re-establish the leadership of Peter in the apostolic church;
and to point to John as the last of the apostolic witnesses.  Each of these
purposes is substantiated in the details of the story.
     
Who but someone who knew the Sea of Galilee would have been able to tell
the fishermen where to cast their nets?  Barclay describes how two modern
travellers in the Holy Land, W.M Thomson in "The Land and the Book" and
H.V. Morton, saw something very similar to this happen.  Who but a close
friend would have prepared a seaside breakfast for the weary fishermen?  As
in the pericope about the empty tomb, it is John who first recognizes the
reality of the situation, that Jesus is calling to them from the beach; but
Peter who takes action by jumping into the water and wading ashore to greet
him.  The fire, the fish and the bread are not merely symbolic details with
which John so dearly liked to embellish his stories.  They are real
evidence for John's community that Jesus was alive.
     
The 153 fish have something more to tell us.  Barclay recounts three of the
many ingenious suggestions as to their meaning.  He concludes, however,
that the net is a symbol of the universal church which is large enough and
strong enough to embrace people of all nations.  Inclusiveness and
diversity are its chief characteristics. 

In his latest book, *The Pagan Christ,* Canadian scholar Tom Harpur writes
that not only in the Christian scriptures but in ancient Egyptian
traditions, fish, fishing, fisherman and nets had great symbolic
significance.  Fish represented the immortal soul "as a breather in the
water of worldly existence" because "a fish could live and breathe
surrounded by water.  So too the soul can be entombed by flesh and matter
and still survive."  The fishermen drawing a net overflowing with fish in
this narrative would thus represent the apostolic church drawing multitudes
to the spiritual life in Christ
     
That Peter drew the net to the shore led to his later conversation with
Jesus.  This exchange with its thrice repeated question and command, "Do
you love me?... Feed my sheep" is the way John tells how Peter was
reinstated as the pastoral leader of the church.  Roman Catholic tradition
regards this as "the Primacy of Peter."  It reiterated Jesus response to
Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ in Matthew 16:16-19.
That the command was repeated three times recalls and forgives Peter's
three earlier denials.  This must have had special meaning for John's
community for whom the Apostle John was the dominant personality among the
disciples.  We know that some sense of rivalry as to who was the greatest
did exist.  This is John's way of saying that each had his special gifts to
bring to the young church, gifts which Christ himself had fully recognized
and acknowledged.
     
Finally, John's contribution is not overlooked.  Whereas Peter was to be
the pastoral leader of the church, John was the longest surviving witness
to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Quite possibly, John had
just died, or was still alive, but no longer capable of any activity.  The
Parousia which had been expected within the lifetime of the apostles had
still not occurred.  The author of this appendix to the Fourth Gospel used
this exchange between Peter and Jesus about John to deal with this concern
about the delay in his own community.  He was assuring his faithful
community that Christ will come according to his own will, unhastened by
our anxiety.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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