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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

The selection for this Fifth Sunday of Easter begins the transition from Easter to Ascension and Pentecost activities, or perhaps, in Fourth Gospel terminology, we should say to Jesus’ absence and anticipated return. With Gospel texts selected from the Gospel According to John and According to Luke, supported by texts from Acts of Apostles and 1 Peter, we have not had a Gospel selection from the Gospel According to Matthew in this Series A year of Matthew since Easter Day itself, and we will not have a Matthean Gospel account again until Trinity Sunday, still four weeks away.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Psalm 31 might be said to be actually two psalms, two individual laments: 31:1-8 and 31:9-24. In each there is the theme of not only the suffering and deliverance of the psalmist, but also of the absence and the return of the Lord. When the Lord is absent, the psalmist is in distress. When the Lord is present, the psalmist is delivered. It is this relationship between the psalmist’s condition and the absence and return of the Lord that makes Psalm 31, and every other individual lament psalm, appropriate for use with Fourth Gospel reflections over the absence and presence of Jesus as Lord.

Acts 7:55-60
Through this use of Acts 7:55-60 on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, separate from the distractions of the vicious, defamatory name-calling of 7:51-54, we have a preview of the Ascension theme of Jesus at the right hand of God and of the Christian Pentecost theme of followers of Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit. In this text, the Lukan playwright also introduced Paul as a Jewish character Saul into this literary drama, unfortunately presenting him as a young man who was watching approvingly while Stephen was being stoned to death.

1 Peter 2:2-10
Isaiah tradition and Psalm tradition texts are used in this selection in order to draw attention to Jesus the Christ as the living stone of great value for those who believe in him. As in other uses of 1 Peter texts, it would be helpful if we would explain to the congregation that the people to whom this epistle was addressed apparently were predominantly of non-Jewish background, even though the writer was probably a Jewish background follower of Jesus. The message of 1 Peter 2:9-10 is most appropriate for Christians who are “first generation” Christians, rather than for those who were born into Christian families. This text, therefore, is most applicable in places where the Church is growing rapidly and where Christians are being persecuted.

John 14:1-14
Even though these verses may have been at one time primarily intended as instructions for followers of Jesus who had gnosticizing tendencies, as we see in the names of those (Thomas and Philip) who question the Johannine Jesus in this account, the text remains instructive and comforting also for us, especially verses 1-3. The place to which Jesus will go and from which Jesus will return is depicted in this text in rather tangible ways as spacious and well-prepared, though nevertheless in somewhat vague terms. We may be grateful that the contention between the leaders of the Johannine community and the gnosticizing Christians generated much of this text. We certainly prefer the situation depicted here to the non-physical expectations of the gnosticizing Christians, even though we deplore the killing of gnosticizing Christians by “orthodox” Christians soon after the latter could utilize the power of the Roman Empire and its oppressive capability during the fourth century.

In retrospect, we must say that it is unfortunate that the claim is made in John 14:6 that no one can go to the Father except through the Johannine Jesus. Most Christians who use this verse today as biblical justification for their “one-wayism” posturing do not realize how narrowly sectarian was the community that provided John 14:6 for us. It is apparent that the members who were the leaders of the Johannine community did not think that other followers of Jesus such as the much more numerous members of communities that developed and used the Synoptic Gospel traditions could “go to the Father.” Their exclusivistic claim was not made for the Jesus of history, or for Jesus as Jesus was perceived by followers of Jesus within the Synoptic communities. Their exclusivistic claim was made for the Johannine Jesus. For them, the Johannine Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Gate into and out of the Sheepfold, the Light of the World, and so forth. As the members of the Johannine community broke fellowship with those who would not tolerate their narrow exclusiveness, the Johannine community’s claims for their view of Jesus were further exaggerated, as even a superficial comparison of how Jesus is portrayed in the Fourth Gospel compared with how Jesus is portrayed in the Synoptic Gospels indicates. Then, in their isolation, the Johannine community leaders and writers desired oneness with the followers of Jesus who were in the communities that had produced the Synoptic Gospels, but on the terms of the Johannine community and its claims of exclusiveness, as we see in the “High Priestly Prayer” of the Johannine Jesus in John 17.

How, then, shall we proclaim Jesus on this Fifth Sunday of Easter this year? Perhaps we would do well to go back to the Jesus of history who pointed to God rather than to himself, rather than to go back to the Johannine Jesus, who is depicted by the Johannine community as having pointed to himself, saying “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Or at least we should recognize and proclaim that the Johannine Jesus is God, and, that God, is, of course, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, for us, and for all who are Christians.

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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