1 Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
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.
Today’s reading is the “Acts 9 version” of Saul/Paul’s conversion – his “Damascus Road Experience.” Other – and somewhat different — versions of this story can be found in Acts 22, Acts 26 and in Galatians 1.
This version of Paul’s conversion connected Saul to the stoning of Stephen in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58) and concluded with Saul’s “theophany” (an appearance of God) in which Saul had a conversation with Jesus (vv.4-6). The reference to “the Way” (v.2) is to the Jesus Follower Movement which was regarded as a sect within Judaism until late in the First Century.
After Acts 13:9, Saul was called Paul in Acts of the Apostles. “Paul” is a Roman version of the Hebrew name “Saul.” Notwithstanding Caravaggio’s famous painting, Paul would NOT have been on a horse; only ranking Romans could use and afford horses.
Verses 7 to 20 reflect the fact that the book of Acts contains materials from different traditions that developed between 40 and 85 CE. For example, this account says that the men with Saul heard a voice but saw no one. Acts 22:9 says they saw the light but did not hear the voice. The author of Acts also presented Saul as a prophet chosen for a special purpose by God (v.15). As a devout Jew, Paul began his preaching in synagogues (v.20).
The street called Straight (v.13) is identified as Darb-el-Mostakim, a major east-west street in the Old City of Damascus. Tarsus, the city from which Paul came, is a coastal city on the south shore of what is now central Turkey.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that Paul’s baptism (v.19) is not mentioned in any of Paul’s epistles.
11 I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
The Book of Revelation is also known as the “Apocalypse” (from a Greek word meaning an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of a new age or of heaven, or both). Apocalyptic writing generally described a dire situation ruled by evil powers that could be overcome only by the “in-breaking” of a force (such as God) to bring about a new age.
Like the apocalyptic writings in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Revelation used extreme images and metaphors to describe the conflict between good and evil. Apocalyptic literature is often presented as a revelation from God conveyed by an angel or other heavenly body. Apocalyptic writings used symbolic language to convey God’s hidden plan.
The author identified himself as “John” but most scholars conclude that the author of Revelation was not John the Apostle because of the reference to the 12 apostles in 21:14. Because of the internal references in the Book, most scholars date the book to the late First Century.
The author of Revelation had extensive knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. Today’s reading is a part of a long series of images (Chapters 4 to 22) that are “seen” by the author. Here, the author sees “thousands and thousands of angels (v.11), an image derived from Dan. 7:10 (another apocalyptic book).
The “Lamb” (v. 12) is the Passover Lamb which brings liberation in the Hebrew Bible. Only the Fourth Gospel referred to Jesus the Christ as “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29, 35). The author of Revelation said that all creatures gave praise to the Lamb and to “the one seated on the throne” (God) equally (v.13) but clearly distinguished between the two.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says that the “four living creatures” (v.14) is “a new literary creation, although individual motifs are borrowed from Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1.”
1 Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many 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” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder that was to be held the night he died.
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 almost all of Chapter 21 of the Fourth Gospel, and most scholars agree that it is an “Epilogue” and was added at some time in the Second Century. John 20:31 has a tone of finality about it (“But these are written so that you may come to believe [other authorities read “may continue to believe”] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
The two other appearances of the Resurrected Christ described by John occurred in Jerusalem but the appearance in Chapter 21 was in the Galilee.
According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, Jesus’ addressing the disciples as “Children” in verse 5 is a colloquialism that means “boys.” The Jewish Annotated New Testament pointed out that “it is odd that Peter dresses but then jumps into the sea” in verse 7.
These accounts continue to show that it was difficult to recognize the Resurrected Christ as Jesus. The disciple whom Jesus loved recognized him as the Lord (v.7) but the disciples seem not to be sure. This is shown by the somewhat confusing verse 12b (“Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.”)
This account makes the Resurrected Christ more “corporeal” than the two appearances in the upper room. Jesus made a fire and cooked breakfast for the disciples. (The meal of bread and fish is a reminder of the feeding of the 5,000 in Chapter 6.)
The conversation between Jesus and Peter (vv.15-19) is a parallel to Peter’s denial of Jesus three times. The phrase “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands” is understood as a reference to the tradition that Peter had to stretch out his arms when was crucified in Rome under Nero (64-68 CE).