Bible Study: 4 Easter (C)

April 21, 2013

Will Prosser, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Acts 9:36-43

Although this passage appears to be about individuals, it is about community. While the focus may, on the surface, appear to be on Peter, that misses the depth of the story. Peter willingly comes to the city from which Jonah left on his mission to the gentiles of Nineveh in order to give Tabitha her life back. As Richard Pervo points out in “Acts: A Commentary” (Fortress Press, 2008), this is not a resurrection in the manner that Jesus experiences, for Tabitha is restored to her old life, not a new one. However, Peter’s actions affect the whole community, not merely Tabitha.

Before entering the room, the widows, the poor and needy of the community, show Peter the sustenance that Tabitha provided them. Once in the room, he sends everyone out, and after he prays, Peter turns to Tabitha. Pervo notes that the verb used here for “turn,” epistréfei, is the same word used for “conversion.” After Peter reveals the newly risen Tabitha to the community, there are many who believe and are converted.

This is a story of responsibilities expected of believers in the world of a resurrected Jesus. Tabitha’s rising is a harbinger of things to come. In this way, Peter brings the Good News of the resurrected Christ to the community in Joppa.

This story also reminds us that everyone should be privy to this news. Tabitha’s name is given in both Aramaic and Greek, for this story was probably meant for both audiences, and Peter, in the last verse, resides with a tanner. A tanner is someone who works with the blood and offal of animals, and as Robert Wall notes in “The New Interpreter’s Bible” (Abingdon Press, 2002), this would most definitely be considered unclean for those following Jewish law. This is no longer a message for certain individuals or communities. We are meant to bring the gospel to everyone.

What are some ways in which we can show the gospel, rather than just telling of it to different communities?

What is Christian responsibility, and how do you attempt to fulfill it?

Psalm 23

This is one of the most beloved psalms in Christianity and Judaism, and often even those who are not of those faiths know of this psalm, which begins “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” While this is a psalm of comfort that we will often whip out for funerals, this is by no means a depiction of an idyllic reality. The person who wrote this psalm is not untroubled because there is no darkness, but because the Lord is present with him in the darkness. The writer is untroubled because he has faith in his shepherd in the darkness.

However, we must honestly wrestle with the sixth verse when the writer claims that goodness and mercy will follow him always. The analysis of this psalm in “Feasting on the Word,” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) informs us that the Hebrew verb for “follow” can also mean “to pursue”; so the verse could be saying that no matter what choices the writer makes, the goodness and mercy of his host’s, the Lord’s, table will pursue him.

How would you articulate your faith? What kind of psalm would you write?

Revelation 7:9-17

This vision from the Apocalypse of John shows our reward. Just as the crowds greeted Jesus with palm branches upon his entrance into Jerusalem, he is praised with palm branches in his victory in heaven. In “The New Interpreter’s Bible” (Abingdon Press, 1998), Christopher Rowland points out the irony that in the Gospel of John, the Pharisees complain that the whole world followed after Jesus, and that is certainly what we see here.

Of course, one of the great paradoxes of the early Christian church is how robes can be made white by pouring scarlet blood on them. I think that this is symbolism of the life of Jesus. There is no rational understanding of how God could be both God and a human, but it happened. And there is no rational understanding of how one man’s sacrifice and resurrection would give eternal life to the world, but it happened. If these things happened, then why couldn’t robes be washed in blood and be made white? However, to gain that promise, to reach the life when God will wipe away all tears and abolish hunger and thirst, we must come through “the great ordeal” that represents our lives.

How do you feel about this vision? Are there things that make you uncomfortable? What are the things that give you hope?

How would you bring this hope to others?

John 10:22-30

In her analysis of this text in “The New Interpreter’s Bible” (Abingdon Press, 1996), Gail O’Day brings up an important point of clarification: The Jews in this story refers to the Jewish religious establishment. Likely, the majority of people involved in this story were Jewish. And this reading is the only time in the Gospel of John when Jesus is asked directly if he is the Messiah. The Samaritan woman questions Jesus’ possible identity as the Messiah, and Martha proclaims that Jesus is, but this is the only time in this gospel when Jesus is asked directly.

Notice, however, that Jesus does not claim in his answer that he is the Messiah, for his answer shows that he is much more than just the anointed one. Instead, as Ernst Haenchen explains in “John 2” (Fortress Press, 1984), Jesus goes on to discuss the nature of his relationship with God, how he and God are unified in purpose and goal. This is how Jesus and God are “one.”

Much in the same way that “goodness and mercy” will always pursue the writer of Psalm 23, Jesus says that his sheep will never be snatched out of his hand. The resurrected Christ gives us the blessing of eternal life, and once it is given, we can never lose it.

What do you do with this confidence? How does it appear in your life and church?

How would you instill this confidence into your community?

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