The First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
Today’s reading begins with a loose “they.” The verse before says that the result of Peter’s sermon after the Pentecost event, had the effect of three thousand people joining the believers. It is this “they” whose life together is described below. It is an ideal community of generosity and faith, where the good of all is highly valued. Note the dual reference to the Eucharist, which had clearly already become an important part of the community’s life. Questions about this passage concerning whether or not this way of life together made the first believers “communists” or “socialists” ask modern-day questions of an ancient text. The point is the profoundly different way of life this represented in the midst of Empire: a way of life where all took care of one another in a spirit of “glad and generous hearts.”
2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25
Our second reading this morning is a troubling passage given its context. Verse 18 addresses the verses that follow it to household slaves. The good of the passage can only be in the fact that slaves are to be examples for the entire household of God. Yet one cannot excuse the capitulation to unjust relationship. Slavery at the time of the early church was considered a part of the natural order, as it was, shamefully, for centuries of the church’s life. The last line of the reading pairs it with this morning’s Gospel. The word “guardian” could also be translated “bishop” (it is the Greek word from which comes our word “episcopal.”
2:19 It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
The Holy Gospel: John 10:1-10
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter we always read from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel with its imagery of Jesus as, first, gate for the sheep into the protection of the sheepfold, and then (immediately following this passage) the Good Shepherd. The image of Shepherd was long used as a title for the kings of Israel and Judah, and, also, for God, as in our psalm (see also, Ezekiel 34:1-10 and Isaiah 40:10-11).
10:1 Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for study groups is given, provided this attribution remains.