I John 4:7-21
St. John 15:1-8
Background: St. Philip
This man, born in Bethsaida in Galilee, was one of the apostles chosen by Jesus. His feast day is on 1 May, where he is honored with James “the Less”. Philip brought his friend Nathanael to see Jesus, and was present at the feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospel of John. He is also associated with a group of Greeks who come wishing to see Jesus. In the first lesson for today, we have a rather interesting account of his meeting with an Ethiopian Eunuch. Perhaps Philip’s connection with the Gentiles occasioned this story reported by Luke in the Acts. The eunuch represents not only someone outside of Judaism due to his birth, but also to his status as a eunuch, and Acts seems to rejoice in the number of “outsiders” who are called to walk with Jesus. Tradition has it that he was crucified in Hierapolis by crucifixion in 80 CE.
An angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth."
The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Philip is encountered by “the angel (messenger) of the Lord”, who in other passages announces the birth of Samson, and of Jesus. Here this messenger urges Philip to go down the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. Gaza, a town in the Southwestern quarter of Judea near the Egyptian border was razed by Alexander the Great, and not rebuilt until 66 CE. Thus we have a notion of when this passage was written. The “Candace” was not a proper name, but rather a Nubian title. The man whom Philip encounters is described in such a way that we can see him as a “God fearer”, a Gentile who was spiritually aligned with Judaism. This impression is made clearer in his reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Luke sets up a story that will make clear the inclusion of Gentiles in the missions and ministries that will follow in the Acts.
The eunuch quotes one of the Suffering Servant songs, especially Isaiah 53:7-8. The quotation allows an entre for Philip to witness to Jesus, which seems to have been successfully done, the eunuch desires to be baptized. There is a traditional reading of verse 37 in some ancient manuscripts that underscore this baptismal connection. The missing material reads: And Philip said, ‘If you believe withal your heart, you may.’ And (the eunuch) said in reply, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ This omitted material may represent an older baptismal formula and confession that was added to the western text. Also of special interest in this reading is the activity of the Spirit who speaks, and snatches away.
Breaking open Acts:
- What is the message here about “undersireable” members of society?
- What are your feelings around the eunuch?
- What is your picture of the Spirit in this reading?
Psalm 22:24-30 Deus, Deus meus
My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
For kingship belongs to the LORD; *
he rules over the nations.
To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the LORD'S for ever.
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.
|Pablo Picasso - The Charnal House|
It is strange to encounter this psalm in Easter after having sung it at various points in Lent and during the Triduum. The first verse of this pericope gives us clues as to what the purpose is, “I will perform my vows.” Such a formula was usually uttered during prayers of thanksgiving for requests that had been answered. Thus it has a votive character, and informs us of the attitude of the material that follows. The great assembly to which he refers is the multitude of peoples in the Temple. This grand embrace of many peoples seems to be the author’s motive and he seems to break new theological ground in doing so. The tradition in the psalms is that the dead cannot praise God (cf. Psalm 6:6, “For in death there is no remembrance of you. Who praises you in Sheol?”) For the author of psalm 22, however, these too are included amongst those who praise God. “All who sleep in the earth bow down in worship.” Time is extended as well, with descendants added to the numbers. “They will proclaim his bounty to a people aborning, for he has done.” (Alter).
Breaking open Psalm 22
- Have you ever promised to do something in response to an answered prayer?
- What was it and how did it work for you?
- How broad do you think that God’s embrace is? Is anyone out?
1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
|Diego Rivera - The Embrace|
We continue our on-going reading of I John. The author has been exploring two related themes that are part and parcel of the Christian message: love of the brother and sister, and the love of God. This reading today discusses the nature of true love in relationship with faith. John makes his first claim – Faith gives us the perception to see in God an all-consuming love. It is God’s very essence. In our loving of others, we begin to not only know God, but are “born of God.” Thus in our actions born of our faith, we abide in God, and God in us. Over and over again, John points out an almost cyclic relationship between faith and love, between humankind and God. It is this relationship that describes God best, and best describes our actions demanded by our world and time. One cannot love God alone, and hate others. The love of the other is demanded by our love of God.
Breaking open I John
- Whom do you really love in this world?
- Is God present in that love?
- Who really loves you in this world?
- Is God there too?
Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
Last Sunday, Jesus was the good shepherd. This Sunday, Jesus uses another metaphor to help us grasp the reality of his ministry with us. Jesus is the vine. In describing this metaphor, John wants us to understand that the relationship of vine and branches is not static. It is an active relationship focused on “bearing fruit.” There are some marvelous puns in the Greek here. The notion of “pruning” and of being “cleansed” becomes evident when we look at the Greek verbs. The two activities, one focusing on cutting away, and the other focusing on being cleansed, form the two sides of the coin, or of the relationship. If you are a gardener, you know the force and promise of pruning. So it is here in this saying – being pruned “by the Father” produces fruit.
This image of the vine and branches, and their interplay is similar in force and style to Paul’s image of Jesus as the head of the Church, and the people as the Body of Christ. In each there is an interdependence and relationship that is sustained for the good of the others.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- To whom are you really connected in this world?
- How connected are you to God?
- What ought to be pruned out of your life?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.