Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 13, 2012
Our readings for this and next Sunday are chosen to prepare us for the reading of the great Pentecost miracle. Today, we jump byond that scene to hear more about the spreading of Christianity to gentiles. (Bear in mind, “gentile” means any non-Jew, be he or she Roman or Greek or German or what-have-you.) A few pages before our passage can be found the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (our lesson of last week). Today we have the conclusion to the story of the conversion of the Roman centurian (commander of hundred soldiers). A gathering of gentile listeners stands around the centurian and Peter as Peter talks about Christ. When the Holy Spirit falls upon them, Peter baptizes them, another step toward the extension of Christianity into the world of gentiles.
First John 5:1-6
Today we have a continuation of our reading of last week from the sermon-like letter of John the Elder. Last week we heard that magnificent assertion: “God is love.” Here John builds upon the image of God as the father who loves us as children. He gives us a way of returning that love: to obey the father’s commandments. The obligation is not burdensome (see Matt. 11:30), yet it “conquers” the world. This may mean a conquest over the Gnostics, or it may mean that we, by obeying, overcome the burdens of this life, or it may mean both.
I’m not sure exactly how John connects obedience to God with faith in Jesus as the Messiah (in Biblical Greek, “the Christ”), but he seems to say that one entails the other.
The remaining lines, mysterious to us, were probably intended for the Gnostics. Jesus came into his authority by water (baptism) and completed his mission by blood (on the cross). The truth of this is testified by the Spirit. The Spirit is not some agent that bears the saving secret, as the Gnostics thought, but truth itself.
Arthur H. Cash is a historian and distinguished professor emeritus, State University of New York at New Paltz.