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Easter 5, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  What God’s love does to us.

The Lessons testify to the difference God’s love makes in our lives (Providence, Justification By Grace, Sanctification, and Social Ethics).

Psalm 22:25-31
The Psalm is a lament prayer for delivery from mortal illness, attributed to David.  The
superscript’s designation to the Leader according to The Deer of the Dawn is probably a set of instructions to the music leader in The Temple about the melody to be used.

The Psalm begins with a cry for help and defense from forsakenness [azats] (vv.1-2), quoted by Jesus on The Cross (Mark 15:34).  This suggests that the Psalm can be read as applying to Jesus’ Passion, an especially appropriate reading since this is labeled one of the Psalms traditionally attributed to David, Jesus’ ancestor through Joseph’s lineage.  Other references foreshadowing The Crucifixion are provided, such as the experience of being scorned, despised and mocked (vv.6-7), being forsaken (v.11), as well as being poured out like water [mayim] as enriched by evil-doers (vv.14-16) and clothes being divided (v.18).  The Psalmist also confesses that God has kept Israel and him safe since birth and that Elohim has been his God since then, a remembrance inspiring the Psalmist’s prayer (vv.3-5,9-10).

A prayer for healing follows, pleading for Yahweh’s Presence and deliverance (vv.19-21).   He concludes with a vow of the sick one to offer a formal thanksgiving in The Temple on recovery (vv.22, 25).  (Or it is also possible that the Psalmist has received a response from God, and the rest of the Psalm is a song of joyful praise in gratitude for deliverance.)  The hymn to be sung in praise follows (vv.23-31).  The praise offered by the Psalmist is said to come from Yahweh (v.25).  This stress on what God does leads to praise of His caring for the poor/afflicted [ani] (v.26), as well as the praise God will receive from the whole earth and the nations (vv.27-28), the dead (v.29), and from posterity (vv.30-31).  This praise could be applied to the God Who raised Jesus.     

Application: This Psalm provides an opportunity to praise God for delivering us from trials, while making clear that even such deliverance happens when God is Present and that our praise of God  is itself a Work of God — comes from Yahweh  (Providence and Justification By Grace).  God’s concern for the poor could also be addressed (Social Ethics).


Acts 8:26-40     
This Book is the second half of the two-part early history of the Church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate, Luke (Colossians 4:14; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24).  It is concerned to affirm the universal mission of the Church (1:8).  This Lesson is the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch by Philip (probably not the Disciple, but one of the Deacons noted in 6:5). 

Philip is reported to have been summoned from Jerusalem by an angel to go south on a wilderness road (v.26).  He meets an Ethiopian eunuch [eunouchos], a court official (the chief financial officer) of the Ethiopian queen (v.27).  (Ethiopian in this context is less an identification of the convert’s residence than a description that he was Black.)  In the ancient
world, Ethiopians were said to be handsome people (Herodotus, History, 3.20).  It was not uncommon in the ancient world for men serving female heads of state to be castrated.  He had been in Jerusalem worshipping and was returning home.  (Presumably he was one of the Gentiles “God-fearers” interested in the Jewish faith, but he might have been a member of the Falasha Tribe in Ethiopia — a tribe of Black Jews.)  But Jews or proselytes were not to be castrated, as per Deuteronomy 23:1.  However, see Isaiah 56:3-5.  Seated in his chariot, the Eunuch had been reading Isaiah (see vv.32-33).

The Spirit [pneuma] directs Philip to the chariot (v.29).  Hearing the Ethiopian Eunuch reading he asks him if he understood the Prophet (v.30).  The Eunuch invites Philip’s interpretation (v.31).  The Ethiopian had been reading the Fourth Servant Song in Isaiah 53:7b-8.  He asks Philip to whom the Prophet speaking referred when speaking of the sheep led to slaughter who had been denied justice (vv.33-34).  Philip responds by proclaiming Jesus (v.35).  Hearing the proclamation, the Ethiopian asks for Baptism and receives it (vv.36,38).  Many ancient manuscripts omit v.37 and its reference to the Ethiopian’s confession of Christ as Son of God.  After the Baptism Philip is snatched away by the Holy Spirit (v.39).  He finds himself in Azotus (formerly known as Ashdod in the Old Testament era, a coastal town west of Jerusalem) and while passing through the region proclaimed the Good News in all the towns until reaching the Palestinian seaport of Caesarea (v.40). 

Application: This Lesson affords opportunities to proclaim the need to read and study the Bible for oneself, but it also highlights how being saturated by God’s Word leads to an inclusivity in Ministry (Sanctification and Social Ethics).


I John 4:7–21
Like the previous week, this Lesson emerges in a treatise or sermon by an unknown teacher of the Johannine tradition, probably aiming to clarify the proper interpretation of the Gospel of John.  Since the end of the 2nd century the Epistle has been recognized as written by the author of the fourth Gospel or by another member of his circle.  The Book addresses disputes over Gnostic or Docetic doubts about whether Jesus was truly a human being and whether His death on the Cross was a sacrifice for sin (1:1-3,7; 2:2; 3:16; 3:2,10; 5:6).

This Lesson is a discourse on the blessedness of love.  It begins with an exhortation to love one another, because love [agape] is from God.  Consequently, all who love are born/begotten [gennao] of God (v.7).  The author elaborates on this further, claiming that because God loves us so much our love follows (v.11).  God is love, so those who abide in love abide in God, and He in them (v.16b).  We love because He first loved us (v.19).  But he also speaks of a commandment [entole], that those who love God must also love brothers and sisters (v.21).  This relates to the author claiming that whoever does not love does not know God Who is love (vv.8,20).

God’s love is said to be revealed in sending His Son into the world to give life through His atoning sacrifice [hilasmos, literally “propitiation”] for sin (vv.9-10).  To this the faithful testify (presumably by the Spirit) (v.14).  No one has seen God, it is stated, but if we love one another God lives in us and His love is then perfected [teleioo, literally “made complete”] in us (v.12).  Love is perfected in giving us boldness for the day of judgment (v.17).  There is no fear [phobeo] in love; perfect love casts out fear.   To fear is not to have reached perfection in love (v.18).  The author adds that we know that we abide/remain [menomen] in Him and He in us by the gift of the Spirit [pneuma] (v.13).  God is said to remain [meno] in those who confess that Jesus is Son of God.  This shows that the faithful know and believe the love God has for us (vv.15-16a).

Application: This is a text for sermons helping the flock to understand how the love Christians display (Sanctification) is rooted in God’s love (Justification By Grace) and the Work of the Holy Spirit, that this love emerges because God is Present in us.


John 15:1-8
Again we receive a Lesson from the last Gospel to be written (probably in the last decade of the first century), and so not written by John the son of Zebedee, but perhaps by a disciple of his in order to address a community of Jewish Christians who had been expelled from Jewish society. This Lesson is part of Jesus’ discussion of the pattern of a Christian life, taken from His Farewell Discourse.  Specifically we consider The Parable of the True Vine and the Branches.  Some New Testament scholars have speculated that in light of Jesus’ claim in 14:30 that He will no longer talk much, this text and Chs. 15-17 were added by a later author. 

The author of the Gospel seems deliberately to get his readers to see Jesus as the true Israel, which was identified as the true vine in Isaiah 5:1-17 and Jeremiah 2:21 and elsewhere.  The Father is said to be the vinegrower [georgos] and Jesus the True Vine [ampelos].   The Father removes the branches bearing no fruit and prunes the fruit-bearing branches to help them bear more fruit (vv.1-2).  The “cleansing” (which may relate to the Greek word for “pruning” in v.2) has already happened to Christians through the Word (v.3).  Jesus exhorts His followers to abide in Him as He abides/remains [meino] in them, like a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, but must abide in the vine (v.4).  Jesus’ followers are said to be branches of His vine.  Those abiding in Him bear much fruit, because apart from Him one can do nothing (v.5).  Those not abiding in Him are thrown away, into the fire (v.6).  Those abiding in Jesus and in whom He abides receive whatever they request.  The Father is glorified by their bearing much fruit [karpos] and being His disciples (vv.7-8).

Application: Sermons on this Lesson will proclaim Justification By Grace Through Faith (as Intimate Union with Christ) and Sanctification (as spontaneous growth in the Christian life, even in face of evil or suffering).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen