Lesson: Acts 4:5-12
5 The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is `the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
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.
As a background story to today’s reading, Peter healed a lame man in the Temple (3:6). After Peter made a long speech to the observers (3:12-26), the Temple Authorities (including the Sadducees — who denied resurrection for anyone) took Peter and John into custody.
Next day, they brought Peter and John before the High Priestly family (4:6). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 8), made another speech, and stated the lame man was cured in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He again blamed the Temple Authorities for crucifying Jesus and said God raised Jesus from the dead (v.10). He described Jesus as the rejected stone that became the cornerstone (v.11). This reference is taken from Psalm 118:22 and is a metaphor for a reversal of expectations – that Jesus was thought to be dead by the authorities but was resurrected. Resurrection is central (the cornerstone) of the victory of Love over Death.
In the late First Century, for their own self-interest, the Jesus Followers’ writings largely exonerated the Romans for Jesus’ death and instead blamed the Temple Authorities, the Pharisees and the Judeans (translated as “the Jews”) for the Crucifixion. In fact, the Romans crucified Jesus as an insurrectionist.
This shift of blame allowed the Jesus Followers (who continued to see themselves as part of Historic Judaism) to separate themselves from the other Jewish sects that were responsible for the Jewish Revolt against the Romans that began in 66 CE. These “other Jews” included the Sadducees, scribes, Zealots, Herodians and Essenes – all of whom were eliminated by the Romans in either the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE or the killing of the Essenes at Masada in 73CE.
After the Revolt and the Destruction of the Temple, the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees were the only surviving Jewish sects. From 70 to 100 CE, the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees contended with each other for control of post-Temple Judaism until the “parting of the ways” around 100 CE. By that time, the Jesus Follower Movement had evolved into an early form of Christianity and the Pharisaic Movement had evolved into an early form of Rabbinic Judaism.
Epistle: 1 John 3:16-24
16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
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.)
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 (in Jesus’ lifetime and until 70 CE) and the Pharisees (from 70 CE until the “parting of the ways” around 100 CE).
The author of 1 John was likely an individual speaking on behalf of a community of followers of the author of the Fourth Gospel.
Today’s reading followed the theology of the Fourth Gospel. It emphasized that Jesus laid down his life “for us” and that we should be prepared to lay down our lives for one another (v.16).
It included the moral imperative that persons who have the world’s goods must help their brothers and sisters in need (v.17). It is not enough to use words. Our actions must reflect this love (v.18) because we are commanded to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34).
Gospel: John 10:11-18
11 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
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.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died at the time lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
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.
In a pastoral society such as Ancient Israel, good shepherd imagery was applied to YHWH in Ezekiel 34, in Psalm 23 (“the LORD/YHWH is my shepherd”) and in Isaiah 40:11.
Today’s reading is part of an extended shepherd metaphor in the first half of Chapter 10 in which Jesus was presented as the Good Shepherd and the other religious leaders were described as not attentive to the care and protection of the sheep.
The “other sheep who do not belong to this fold” (v.16) is a clear reference to Gentiles, who (by the time of the writing of the Fourth Gospel) were a significant part of the Jesus Follower Movement.