Please note that this will be my last commentary until September; have a great summer!

 John 14:23 – 29

Last Sunday, we heard the prologue to John’s Last Supper Discourses, in which the new commandment – to love one another – was introduced.  This Sunday, we hear a portion of the first Last Supper Discourse.  It appears to be a continuation of last week’s presentation on love.  As you will see in your footnote, most scholars consider the section of 13:31 – 17:26 to be Johannine compositions, modeled on farewell discourses found in contemporary Greek and Hebrew literature.  It contains sayings of Jesus both at the Last Supper and on other occasions and has been blended together in a style similar to farewell discourses of other great men, real and imaginary.  This is a very important section of John’s Gospel, so let’s look at it very closely.  Let’s start off with the very beginning of the 14th chapter.  Many of us are familiar with it because it is used so often at funeral Masses.  Curiously, it is used only once in the Sunday Liturgical calendar, on the 5th Sunday of Easter – Year A.  The only other section of chapter 14 that we hear on a Sunday are vvs. 15 -21, also used in Year A – the 6th Sunday.  These two sections offer very different messages so let’s look at them before going to Sunday’s reading.


On Sunday, we hear what appears to be a continuation of last week’s section (13:31-35) which includes our Lord’s commandment to love.  Let’s look at that again and then move right into Sunday’s reading.


23 Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.


Jesus answered: On Sunday, you will hear the gospel passage begin with: “Jesus said to his disciples.”  That’s not exactly how the Bible reads because this verse is in response to the previous verse, where we hear Judas ask a question.  He is apparently puzzled by Jesus discourse, which since v. 17 has stressed a secret rather than a public manifestation.  What, then, of the glorious manifestation of the Son of Man before the eyes of the whole world that we hear Jesus foretell earlier (cf. Mk 13:26)?  Jesus does not really answer Judas but offers a repeated emphasis of the reality of the manifestation that will be made to the believer.


my Father will love him…we will come… make our dwelling with him: at first glance, this may appear to say that God’s love is conditional, or an assertion that one can earn God’s love by obeying Jesus’ word.  But, if you read carefully the second half of the sentence, you see that Jesus is speaking of a love that is reciprocal.  God loves everyone but does not disregard our free will.  Remember Jeremiah who cried out, “you seduced me,” added, “and I let myself be seduced.”  God longs for us to come to him but it is us to us to let him in; then he will make his dwelling with us. 


24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.


Whoever does not love me does not keep my words: it is the lack of love and obedience that precludes the world from having any part in this manifestation of Father and Son.


25 “I have told you this while I am with you.

26 The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.


holy Spirit: we see here another revelation that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person from the Father and the Son. This section of today’s Gospel prepares us for Pentecost.


he will teach you:  cf. 5:43.  It is interesting that the Holy Spirit will be accepted whereas Jesus is not.  Also, we see that it is the Spirit who, after Christ’s glorification, has the function to complete the revelation of Christ by enlightening the Church concerning the true and full meaning of what Jesus had said and done (cf. 2:22, 12:16; Acts 11:15-18).


27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.


Peace: If you look in your footnotes, you will see that the traditional Hebrew salutation is salom, but Jesus’ “Shalom” is a gift of salvation, connoting the bounty of messianic blessing.   The word here has a much deeper significance as an expression of the harmony and communion with God that was the seal of the covenant (cf. Nm 6:22-26).  Hence, it came to have an eschatological and messianic meaning (cf. Is 91-:6), virtually the same as “salvation.”  You will recall that it is this same peace that the risen Lord offered to the disciples when he appeared to them on Easter Sunday (cf. Jn.  20: 19ff).


28 You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.


The Father is greater than I: because he sent, gave, etc., and Jesus is “a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God” (John 8:40).  


29 And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.



Acts 15: 1 – 2, 22 – 29


Here, we hear what happened in the early Christian community after Paul and Barnabas return from their first missionary journey and reported the success they had enjoyed among the Gentiles.  This passage picks up right from where we left off last week. As you see in your footnotes, this passage records a significant moment in the early Christian community.  The Jerusalem “Council”, which occurred @ 49AD, marks the official rejection of the rigid view that Gentile converts were obliged to observe the Mosaic Law completely. This episode falls purposely in the middle of Acts, for it marks the turning point of Luke’s story.  At this moment, the Christian Church officially breaks out of its Jewish matrix (something that constitutes the place or point from which something else originates, takes form, or develops).  From here to the end of Acts, Paul and the Gentile mission become the focus of Luke’s writing. When some of the converted Pharisees of Jerusalem discover the results of the first missionary journey of Paul, they urge that the Gentiles be taught to follow the Mosaic Law.  Recognizing the authority of the Jerusalem church, Paul and Barnabas go there to settle the question of whether Gentiles can embrace a form of Christianity that does not include this obligation.  Although Sunday’s reading excludes it, let’s read 3 – 21 for a fuller picture.


1 Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.”


2 Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question.


there arose no little dissension:  contrast with Gal 2:2, 5 – 10.


Paul and Barnabas: notice the sudden change in name order (contrast with 11:30, 12:25, 13:7, 14:14; compare with 13:43, 46, 50, 15:22).  Some scripture scholars argue that these chapters have combined at least two sources, which Luke puts together almost seamlessly.  Notice, however, that Acts 11:19 – 30 seems to have a natural sequel in 15:3 – 33.  Verses 1 – 2 of chapter 15 appear to be a Lucan suture joining these two Antiochene passages that were interrupted by chapters 13 – 14.


3 They were sent on their journey by the church, and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.

4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, as well as by the apostles and the presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them.

5 But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.”

It is necessary to circumcise observe the Mosaic law:  this was a critical point for the early Christian community, on a number of levels.  The circumcision was the sign of the covenant that God had established with the Abraham and his descendants.  It set them apart from the rest of humanity.  It also relegated women to a different, seemingly inferior status in the faith.  On a much deeper level, however, it contradicted Jesus’ teaching – which was the heart of Paul’s teaching – that the key to salvation was not the law but faith in Jesus.  It also required aspiring Christians to first become Jews.  The crucial implication of this debate was ultimately about whether this incipient Jesus movement was just a faithful sect of Judaism, like the zealots, or a new movement, based on Judaism but not bound to its laws and limitations.


6 The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.


apostles and the presbyters met together: The gathering is possibly the same as that recalled by Paul in Gal 2:1-10. Note that in Acts 15:2 it is only the apostles and presbyters, a small group, with whom Paul and Barnabas are to meet.  Here Luke gives the meeting a public character because he wishes to emphasize its doctrinal significance (see Acts 15:22).  


7 After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.


Peter got up:  As you will read in your footnotes, Paul’s refusal to impose the Mosaic law on the Gentile Christians is supported by Peter on the ground that within his own experience God bestowed the holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his household without preconditions concerning the adoption of the Mosaic law (see Acts 10:44-47).  


8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us.

9 He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.

10 Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?

11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”



Why, then, are you now putting God to the test… we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus: To put “God to the test” is an Old Testament expression (cf. Ex. 17:2, 7).  In support of Paul, Peter formulates the fundamental meaning of the gospel: that all are invited to be saved through faith in the power of Christ.  


12 The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.

13 After they had fallen silent, James responded, “My brothers, listen to me.


James responded: As you will read in your footnotes, some scholars think that this apostolic decree suggested by James, the immediate leader of the Jerusalem community, derives from another historical occasion than the meeting in question. This seems to be the case if the meeting is the same as the one related in Gal 2:1-10. According to that account, nothing was imposed upon Gentile Christians in respect to Mosaic law; whereas the decree instructs Gentile Christians of mixed communities to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols and from blood-meats, and to avoid marriage within forbidden degrees of consanguinity and affinity (Lev 18), all of which practices were especially abhorrent to Jews.  Luke seems to have telescoped two originally independent incidents here: the first a Jerusalem “Council” that dealt with the question of circumcision, and the second a Jerusalem decree dealing mainly with Gentile observance of dietary laws (see Acts 21:25 where Paul seems to be learning of the decree for the first time).  


14 Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name.


Symeon: Look at your footnote here.  You will see that elsewhere in Acts he is called either Peter or Simon.  The presence of the name Symeon here suggests that, in the source Luke is using for this part of the Jerusalem “Council” incident, the name may have originally referred to someone other than Peter (see Acts 13:1 where the Antiochene Symeon Niger is mentioned).  As the text now stands, however, it is undoubtedly a reference to Simon Peter (Acts 15:7).  


15 The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:

16  ‘After this I shall return and rebuild the fallen hut of David; from its ruins I shall rebuild it and raise it up again,

17  so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked. Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things,

18  known from of old.’

19 It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God,

20 but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.

21 For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.”


22 Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers.

23 This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings.

24 Since we have heard that some of our number (who went out) without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind,

25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27 So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth:

28 ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,


holy Spirit: they recognize that their decision is the work of the Spirit of God.


29 namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.'”


30 And so they were sent on their journey. Upon their arrival in Antioch they called the assembly together and delivered the letter.

31 When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation.


You will notice that this landmark decision was made after the early Christians followed a three-step process:


  • They examined their lived experiences to discern how God had acted among them (cf. 15:7-11);
  • They looked to scriptural passages to help them understand what God was doing (cf. 15:13-17, which refers to Amos 9:11-12; many other passages from Isaiah, the Psalms and Jeremiah also speak of God’s salvation of all nations); and
  • They carried on a hearty debate – guided by the Holy Spirit – until they could come to a peaceful conclusion as the church (cf. 15:4-5, 23-29).


The Church has used this same process through the ages – most clearly experienced in the 21 ecumenical councils – to discern God’s continued action in the Church.



Revelation 21:10 – 14, 22 – 23


This Sunday, we hear again from the Book of Revelation, picking up just a few verses after we left off last week (5a).   We see that the selection begins with John being taken up to view the city of Jerusalem from a high mountain – the traditional locale for a religious experience, beginning with Moses.  But now, the mountain is nothing more than the necessary vantage point from which the holy city can be seen in all its glory. 


10 He [the angel] took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

11 It gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal.


precious stone… jasper… crystal: as a jeweler, I’m intrigued by this line.  We all know that jasper is an aggregate mineral that contains quartz as well as chalcedony and other minerals.  It has been thought to contain healing powers.  We’ll see a lot more of precious jewels in a few minutes!


12 It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, (the names) of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.

13 There were three gates facing east, three north, three south, and three west.

14 The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.


Courses of stones . . . apostles: literally, “twelve foundations”; cf. Eph 2:19-20.  


15 The one who spoke to me held a gold measuring rod to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.


16 The city was square, its length the same as (also) its width. He measured the city with the rod and found it fifteen hundred miles in length and width and height.


city was square: The city is shaped like a gigantic cube, a symbol of perfection (cf. 1 Kings 6:19-20). The measurements of the city and its wall are multiples of the symbolic number twelve; see the note on Rev 7:4-9.  


Fifteen hundred miles: literally, twelve thousand stades, about 12,000 furlongs (see the note on Rev 14:20); the number is symbolic: twelve (the apostles as leaders of the new Israel) multiplied by 1,000 (the immensity of Christians); cf Introduction. In length and width and height: literally, “its length and width and height are the same.”  


17 He also measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits according to the standard unit of measurement the angel used.


One hundred and forty-four cubits: the cubit was about eighteen inches in length, so the wall was 216’ tall.


Standard unit of measurement the angel used: literally, “by a human measure, i.e., an angel’s.”  


18 The wall was constructed of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass.


Gold… The gold and precious gems symbolize the beauty and excellence of the church; cf. Exodus 28:15-21; Tobit 13:16-17; Isaiah 54:11-12.  


19 The foundations of the city wall were decorated with every precious stone; the first course of stones was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald,

20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh hyacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.

21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made from a single pearl; and the street of the city was of pure gold, transparent as glass.


22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.


no temple in the city: Christ is present throughout the church; hence, no temple is needed as an earthly dwelling for God; cf. Matthew 18:20; 28:20; John 4:21.  


23 The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.


Lamp . . . Lamb: cf John 8:12.  


24 The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure.


nations will walk by its light: All men and women of good will are welcome in the church; cf Isaiah 60:1,3,5,11. The . . . book of life: see the note on Rev 3:5.  


25 During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there.

26 The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there,

27 but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any (one) who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.


In this weekend’s readings, we hear Jesus promise the Holy Spirit who will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus taught us.  It is by listening to each other attentively – and, more importantly, to the Holy Spirit – that the early Church was able to resolve a critical issue.  And, it is this same Spirit that will lead us to the heavenly Jerusalem. All of these readings prepare us for the coming of the Holy Spirit, as we will celebrate in two weeks on Pentecost.


As we come to the end of another year of Bible Study/Faith Sharing, I want to thank you for your attendance and careful attention at these sessions.  I look forward to every Thursday morning and I hope you do, too!  These are wonderful occasions for us to get together around the Word of God and learn from the readings and from each other.  I hope you have a wonderful summer and look forward to seeing you again in September!