Sunday Readings
Commentary

Sunday Readings Commentary

Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.

To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.

Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:

O Lord,
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.

To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.

Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:

O Lord,
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Third Sunday of Easter

When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

This reading is the final section of Peter’s speech to the people of Jerusalem after Pentecost, when he is explaining to the crowds the significance of the first miracle worked by the apostles in the power of the Spirit. Like all the speeches in Acts, it is not a word-for-word, tape-recorded report, but is a sample of Peter’s preaching to the Jews. He lays the blame for Jesus’ rejection squarely on them, but shows that it was just as scripture had foretold. All of the speeches end with an invitation to repent. This does not mean simply to get all weepy about past sins, ‘how dreadful and wicked I have been’. It means that the listeners, and we, must change our ways in a positive direction that is to adopt God’s and the Risen Christ’s system of values. To convert means I was going in one direction; now I turn round and go in another. Then the way I look at the world becomes completely altered. I see things from a different perspective, God’s and Christ’s angle.

This sort of conversion does not so much look at the past with regret as look at the future with confidence. It is the new determination that allows God to wipe out our sins.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

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; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

This reading contains hints of an opposition from a godless world, but it concentrates much more on union of God’s children to God himself. We are already God’s children, because we have been adopted in Christ and can cry ‘Abba, Father!’ What are the implications of this adoption to sonship? Sometimes a son is almost absurdly like his father in looks, gestures, mannerisms and ways of approaching any task. For ourselves we cannot yet fully know what this likeness will consist in, but we are promised that in the fullness of revelation we will be assimilated to God. Not only must we be close to our Father in prayer, but we must also show the qualities of God in our actions, God’s generosity, his forgiveness, his openness. Part of this must be that we will find that God has developed in us all the qualities we most love and admire in others, sons assimilated to their father. It will be a world of universal joy and appreciation, as all is suffused with the generosity and love of the Father. ‘We shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is’, and this means that the vision of God will be so overwhelming that we cannot but become like him.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

In the previous gospel reading the two disciples had met Jesus on their way to Emmaus. There Jesus had used the Eucharistic meal to reveal himself to them, for the Eucharist is always an occasion for us to get to know the Risen Christ better. Now he meets the whole group of disciples in their refuge, the Upper Room. The stress is on their meeting with a real person, not a disembodied ghost or phantom appearance. That is why he eats a piece of fish.

The important lesson of this is that, in our resurrection to true life, it is the whole person that is raised, not just the soul. Our bodies will be so real that we will be able to eat. Christian teaching is that a person is an animated body. We work out our salvation with fingers and toes and other bodily members, and all will be raised to life. It is not just a matter of thoughts and intentions! The whole body is baptised into Christ and is the instrument of our salvation. The body will be changed, and St Paul tells us that it is stupid to ask what sort of body we will have in the resurrection, but I shall be raised as a whole person.

The Second Sunday of Easter

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. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 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. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This all seems too good to be true. Besides we might say it may have happened in the very early days of the Church but not now. This description of the first Christians does not match our experience of the local parish Church! But there is a powerful message here which we need to listen to and work at as individuals and as Church Communities. God uses those who follow his Son, Jesus Christ to save the world. God uses the love, the joy and the peace of those who follow his Son Jesus to extend the kingdom of God and the good news of the Gospel. God uses people like us whom he fills with the grace of Jesus Christ to pour out his love on the world.    This description of the early Church is no pipe dream. It is dream coming true. God uses the church, that is us, to draw people into the world of his love. As the Church locally invites hurting people into its community, God pours out his grace and to witness to the resurrection of his Son. Are we open to such life changing grace?

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— 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— 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. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

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. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 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. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

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; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The symbolism of light and darkness is strong in this letter, as in the Gospel of John; Christ is the light of the world (John 3.19-20), and when Judas goes out to betray him night had fallen (John 13.30). This follows on from the constant imagery of light in the Old Testament for God (Ex 13.21) and his Messiah, especially in Isaiah (Isaiah 9.1; Isaiah 60.1-3).

Furthermore, this is one of the very few passages where Christ’s sacrifice is mentioned in terms of expiation. ‘Christ is the sacrifice to expiate our sins’ does not mean that Christ pays to a vengeful god the penalty for our sins, as it would do in pagan concepts of expiation, where evil done has to be cancelled out by evil undergone. In Hebrew thought it is always God who reconciles us, rather than we who reconcile God. In Romans 3.25 Paul uses sacrificial terminology to explain that ‘God put forward’ Jesus ‘as a reconciliation/expiation in his blood’. Later on (Romans 5.12-20) he explains this by saying that Jesus’ act of loving obedience to his Father annulled the disobedience of Adam: ‘Just as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience are many to be made righteous.’ It was by the act of loving obedience that we were reconciled, rather than by the blood shed or the suffering undergone.

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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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.”

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.” 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 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.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.

This passage from John’s Gospel has all the more significance because it brings the Gospel to a close. The story of the breakfast-party with the Risen Christ on the shore of the Lake of Galilee is a sort of appendix. The story-line of the main Gospel ends with Thomas blurting out ‘My Lord and my God’. The Gospel therefore ends, as it began with the only two unmistakable declarations in the New Testament of the divinity of Jesus. ‘The Word was God’ and ‘My Lord and my God’ bracket the Gospel, showing the purpose and angle of the whole, to show that Jesus is God. It complements the other Gospels: they show a man who is also God, whereas this Gospel shows a God who is also man. It is with the divine authority that Jesus confers on his Church the divine power to forgive. Real forgiveness is indeed Godlike. It is not simply ‘forgive-and-forget’, but forgiveness in the knowledge that a hurt has occurred. Just as a bone, broken and merged together again, can be stronger than it was before it was broken, so forgiveness can create a real link of love on both sides, a treasured secret of divine graciousness between forgiver and forgiven.