Lesson: Acts 4:32-35
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with the Ascension of the Christ and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers.
Chapters 16 to 28 of Acts are an account of Paul’s Missionary Journeys, his arrest, and his transfer to Rome – and the stories are not always consistent with Paul’s letters.
The Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles see the Holy Spirit as the driving force for all that happens. The events surrounding today’s reading exemplify this.
Peter and John and other Jesus Followers prayed at the Temple soon after the Ascension and Pentecost. (Jesus Followers saw themselves as part of Historic Judaism until the late 1st Century, even after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.)
After praying, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (v.31) and the “whole group” gave all their possessions to be held in common so that no one would be needy among them (v.34). Today’s reading is a reiteration of the holding all things in common by “all who believed” as described in Acts 2:44.
Holding all goods in common is still characteristic of those religious orders whose members take a vow of poverty.
Epistle: 1 John 1:1 – 2:2
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
There are three letters attributed to “John” – an attribution given in the late 2nd Century about the same time that the four canonical Gospels were attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. (We do not know the actual authors of any of the Gospels.)
There are similarities between these three letters and the Fourth Gospel (for example, “from the beginning” in verse 1). But there are also differences – in the use of images (in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is the “light” but in 1 John, a moral life is the “light” v. 7), as well as differences in theology and in other aspects of the Fourth Gospel.
Biblical Scholars believe that the author of 1 John was likely an individual speaking on behalf of a community (“We declare” in verse 1) of followers of the author of the Fourth Gospel.
Scholars also conclude that the three letters attributed to “John” were written after 100 CE because they do not reflect the tense relationships found in the Fourth Gospel between the Jesus Followers and the Temple Authorities that existed in Jesus’ lifetime and until 70 CE and with the Pharisees from 70 CE until the “parting of the ways” around 100 CE.
The letter was also written to deal with a schism (2:19) that had occurred in the community (likely Ephesus) over the question whether Jesus was truly human or was only in the “appearance” of a human – a “heresy” later called Docetism.
Gospel: John 20:19-31
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many of the stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is another account that is not found in the Synoptic Gospels. It begins in a room that is locked “for fear of the Jews” (v.19), which is to be understood as fear of the Judean Temple Authorities. The day is the first day of the week, the same day that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.
Reflecting the ambivalence about the physical nature of the Resurrected Christ, Jesus seemed to walk through walls and stood among them (v.19 and v.26), but his wounds (only John’s Gospel speaks of a wound in Jesus’ side – 19:34) remain (v.20 and 27). The disciples did not recognize him, however, until he showed them his wounds (v.20).
The Commissioning of the disciples (v.21) is analogous to Matt. 28:19, and the imparting of the Holy Spirit (vv.22-23) is sometimes called “Little Pentecost” – as compared to the longer Pentecost account in Acts 2:1-4.
Some ancient manuscripts include a verse 31 that is properly translated as “you may continue to believe.” This text would indicate that the intended audience of the Gospel was persons who were already believers. The words “you may come to believe” in verse 31 in the NRSV would indicate that the Gospel’s intended audience was non-believers.
Many scholars believe that the Fourth Gospel ended with verses 30 and 31, and that Chapter 21 (which describes an appearance of the Resurrected Christ in Tiberius by the Sea of Galilee) was added in the Second Century.