Lesson: Acts 16:16-34
16 With Paul and Silas, we came to Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman colony, and, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in 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.
Today’s reading continues where last week’s reading left off by recounting Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. In Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia (northern Greece), Paul and Silas were again going to the synagogue to make converts of “God Fearers” (Gentile sympathizers to Hellenistic Judaism who observed some Jewish practices and customs).
As they went to the synagogue, a slave-girl who had powers of divination followed them for a number of days and called them “slaves of the Most High God” (v.17). Paul got annoyed and exorcised the spirit of divination out of the slave-girl (v.18).
The slave-girl had “brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune telling” (v.16) and the owners of the slave-girl realized they had lost a lot of money. They accused Paul and Silas of trying to convert Romans (which was unlawful). Paul and Silas were flogged and imprisoned.
Just as the apostles had been miraculously released from prison in Chapter 5 of Acts, Paul and Silas’ chains were broken by an earthquake. Though they were freed, they did not run away. The jailer’s thought of killing himself (v.27) was not an over-reaction. Herod had killed the guards when Peter escaped from prison with the assistance of an angel (Acts 12:19). The jailer was so moved by Paul’s and Silas’ remaining in the jail that he and all his household became Jesus Followers.
Epistle: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
12 At the end of the visions I, John, heard these words: “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
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.
Today’s reading is regarded by scholars as an epilogue and consisted of portions of the last chapter of Revelation. It presented Jesus as being the “Alpha and Omega” (v.13) and a vision of the coming of Jesus which will happen “soon” (v. 20).
Those who wash their robes in the Blood of the Lamb are understood to be those who have suffered persecution and they will have a right to the Tree of Life (v.14) and to enter the New Jerusalem. The grace of the Lord will be with all the saints (v.21).
Gospel: John 17:20-26
20 Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
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 part of the “Farewell Discourse and Prayer of Jesus” that begins at 13:31 and continues to 17:26. There are numerous themes in the Discourse, and a substantial amount of repetition. Scholars suggest that some of the themes in the Discourse reflect the situation when the Gospel itself was written in the late First Century. Most agree that the Prayer in Chapter 17 constituted a separate unit.
Generally, the lengthy Discourse is divided into four units: (a) announcement of the hour and farewell; (b) exhortation to the disciples about the community in the face of external hostility; (c) consolation for the sorrowing disciples; and (d) Jesus’ prayer for the disciples.
Today’s reading is the last part of the prayer and is a prayer for all who will believe though the word of the disciples (v.20). This prayer concluded both the Farewell Discourses that began in 13:31 and the Jesus Prayer in Chapter 17. It is a prayer that Jesus offered for himself, for his disciples, and for future believers.
The prayer is consistent with the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel in that Jesus said, “you loved me before the foundation of the world” (v.24) just as the Prologue asserted “In the beginning was the LOGOS (1:1).
The prayer offered a sense of “vertical” unity between the Father and the Christ and also a “horizontal” unity between the Father/Son and the disciples/believers (v.21). The prayer continued that Jesus the Christ has made God’s name known to believers (v.26).
In The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, Bishop John Shelby Spong offered this understanding of the final part of Jesus’ Prayer in Chapter 17:
Unity, the inner connectedness of life and love, brings together God and the human, the Ground of Being and being. Again and again the Fourth Gospel drives home its point. God is not an external, distant entity; God is a life we enter, a love we share, the ground in which we are rooted. The call of Christ is not into religion, but into a new mystical oneness. The death of Jesus will not be the end of his life; it will be the moment when the meaning of God is ultimately revealed, the moment in which Jesus will be glorified, because the world will see God in him when he is on the cross. There Jesus will reveal God as the portrait of expanded life, limitless love, and enhanced being . It is an invitation to walk through the door of Christ (“I am the door,” John 10:9), to follow the way of Christ (“I am the way,” John 14:6) and to enter into the expanded life of Christ (I am the resurrection,” John 11:25).
The final part of this prayer asks that those who become followers may be with Christ “where I am to behold my glory “ (John 17:24). This is not a request to go to a place where one can be reassured by seeing what eyes cannot normally see. It is instead a request that the life of God, found in the person of the Christ, can be seen in the followers of Jesus and that we too may reveal the glory of God. It is a prayer that the essence of love may be “in them as I am in them.” The good news of the gospel, as John understands it, is not that you – a wretched, miserable, fallen sinner—have been rescued from your fate and saved from your deserved punishment by the invasive power of a supernatural, heroic God who came to your aid. Nowhere does John give credibility to the dreadful, guilt-producing and guilt-filled mantra that “Jesus died for my sins.” There is rather an incredible new insight into the meaning of life. We are not fallen; we are simply incomplete. We do not need to be rescued, but to experience the power of an all-embracing love. Our call is not to be forgiven or even to be redeemed; it is to step beyond our limits into a new understanding of what it means to be human. It is to move from a status of self-consciousness to a realization that we share in a universal consciousness. John’s rendition of Jesus’ message is that the essence of life is discovered when one is free to give life away, that love is known in the act of loving and the call of human life is to be all that each of us can be and then to be an agent of empowering others to be all that they can be.
That is the meaning to which the signs in John’s gospel point. That is the message spoken over and over in the Farewell Discourses. That is the essence of this prayer, which John has created to place upon the lips of Jesus.