Lesson: Acts 9:36-43
36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
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 follows a brief description of Paul’s activities in Damascus, in Jerusalem and his escape to Tarsus when the “Hellenists” (Greek speaking Jewish opponents of Paul) sought to kill him. It also follows a story of a healing by Peter of a man who had been paralyzed for eight years in the city of Lydda.
Today’s reading is set in Joppa (which is modern Jaffa, a city on the Mediterranean, about 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem and 11 miles northwest of Lydda. The woman’s name, Tabitha (in Aramaic) or Dorcas (in Greek) means “gazelle” in both languages. Tabitha is the only woman in the Christian Scriptures who is specifically identified as a “disciple.”
Peter’s raising Tabitha from the dead is reminiscent in style and manner to Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:41; Mark 5:22), Elijah’s raising the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:22), and Elisha’s raising the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:33).
Some scholars suggest that Peter’s residing with Simon the tanner (v.43) may have been included by the author of Acts as a segue to the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion (a Gentile) in Chapter 10. Tanning animal hides would have rendered Simon the tanner (and perhaps his house) ritually unclean.
Epistle: Revelation 7:9-17
9 I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat,
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
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.
In today’s reading, those who worship the Lamb have symbols of righteousness (white robes) and victory (palm branches) (v.9) because blood (sacrifice) washes the robes and leads to victory (white). The idyllic state that is described in verse 16 (hunger and thirst no more) is derived from Isaiah 49:10. Paradoxically, the Lamb is also the shepherd (v.17). God as “shepherd” is best known from Psalm 23 and the “Good Shepherd” in the Fourth Gospel. The idea that God will wipe away every tear is derived from Isaiah 25.8, as part of what is called the “Isaiah Apocalypse.”
Gospel: John 10:22-30
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
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.
The Feast of the Dedication (v.22) remembered the re-dedication of the Temple in 164 BCE after it was desecrated by Antiochus IV, an event that had led to the Maccabean Revolt in 167 BCE. The Feast is celebrated now as Hanukkah.
“The Jews” (v.24) is the “code word” in the Fourth Gospel for the Temple Authorities, High Priests, and the leaders of the Pharisees. In most places in the Fourth Gospel it does not designate the Jewish People.
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus had described himself as the “gate” through which the sheep enter (v.7) and himself as the “good shepherd” (v.11) so his response to the authorities that “you do not belong to my sheep” reflected the incipient “parting of the ways” in the late First Century.
Jesus’ statement “The Father and I are one” would have been seen as a denial of monotheism by the Temple Authorities. They prepared to stone him (v.31) – the prescribed punishment for blasphemy.(Lev.29:16)