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The Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year C

Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

Alright, so with that in mind then we’ll go back to John 10, and ask about that final line. Once Jesus has asserted that the Father is more powerful than all (and in context there he’s talking about that he’s more powerful, he’s greater than the enemy. He’s greater than the evil one. He’s greater than the devil who tries to steal Jesus’ sheep.) In that context, Jesus then says “I and the Father are one.” Now, what does that mean? That is a powerful, powerful statement. And you can see it can be taken in a number of different ways. It could be taken in terms of union with God, like “I and God are…we’re one. We are united morally, or we see things the same way.” But it could also be taken in terms of a unity of natures, “I and the Father are one”, meaning “He is all-powerful and I am all-powerful.” “He is God and I am God.” So, how do we interpret this verse? Well, as always, the clue to explaining the verse is in the context. So, in the context of a discourse on the Good Shepherd, and in the context of verses in which Jesus has just said that the sheep ultimately belong to the Father — which means, “He is the good shepherd who has given the sheep to the son (given the sheep to Jesus)” — in that context, for Jesus to say “I and the Father are one”, it implies that he’s identifying himself with the Divine Shepherd. And if you are wondering, “What do you mean ‘the divine shepherd’?” Well think of it from an ancient Jewish perspective. In the Old Testament scriptures, who is the Good Shepherd? Who is the image of the good shepherd used for? Well, it’s used for the Lord, the one God of Israel. The most famous example of this is of course Psalm 23. And what’s the first verse? Even people who don’t know anything about the Bible know the first verse of Psalm 23: “The Lord (and that’s the Hebrew letters YHWH – The Tetragrammaton) is my shepherd. I shall not want.” And then David goes on to give this whole Psalm where he depicts the Lord as the true shepherd. But then there are other passages as well. Ezekiel 34-36, I don’t have time to read from those passages, but in those chapters of the prophet Ezekiel, God himself talks about the wicked shepherds over Israel. He’s basically referring to the priests in the Jerusalem Temple, who instead of caring for the flock have slaughtered the lambs and fleeced them (literally), in terms of extorting them and abusing them. And so what God says is, “I myself will come and gather my flock” in Ezekiel 34-36. So God reveals that in the age of salvation, he is going to come as shepherd to gather his flock himself. Actually, now that I think about it, let’s go back and just look at those verses real quick. Even though they’re not in the readings for today, they’re actually very helpful. They’re the context for Jesus’ words. So if you go back to Ezekiel 34:11, this is what the prophecy says:

"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

So notice, what is God saying? He’s saying because the shepherds of Israel (the chief priests and the elders) have proven themselves to be wicked, he is going to come in person and save his flock. He’s going to come in person and gather the scattered sheep of the people of Israel. So in that context, think about it, if you’re a first century Jew, you’re waiting for the age of the messiah, you’re waiting for the age of salvation, and you know the prophecy of Ezekiel, that God says, “In the future age of salvation, when I gather the people of Israel once again, I’m going to come myself and be the good shepherd.” In that context, Jesus now comes in the Temple and says, “I am the good shepherd, my sheep hear my voice. I know them. I give them eternal life.” And in that context he says, “I and the Father are one.” What’s he revealing? He’s revealing that he himself is the divine shepherd who has come to gather his sheep. Now, it’s a little unfortunate that the lectionary ends with verse 30. Because if you had any doubts about the interpretation I’ve just given you, that Jesus is claiming to be God when he says “I and the Father are one”, all you would have to do is look at the next verses in the Gospel of John, because after Jesus says “I and the Father are one” (although the lectionary doesn’t read it), verses 31-33 says this:

“I and the Father are one.”

That is verse 30.  Now look at verse 31.

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God."

However later interpreters might try to get out of the divine implications of Jesus’ words by saying that he has a moral unity with God, or a spiritual unity with God, or some other kind of oneness with God other than divine nature, it’s very clear that (in the Gospel of John) Jesus’ original Jewish audience totally gets the point. They actually get it so clearly that they pick up stones to stone him to death, because the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning. And he says, “Well wait, before you stone me, what good deed have I done that you’re going to stone me for?” He’s kind of tongue-in-cheek there. And they say, “We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy, because you being a man, make yourself God.” The Greek word there is theos (in English, if you transliterate it). Theos, from which we get theology. So they understand he is making himself God. This is a climactic moment in the Gospel of John, where Jesus isn’t just revealing he’s the Good Shepherd, he’s revealing his divinity. That he is the Divine Shepherd of Israel who has now come in person to save his people.

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

But the Church uses it frequently — and not just here but in other places in the lectionary — as an image for the Church Triumphant, the heavenly Church.

And when John says he had a vision of a:

…great multitude which no man could number…

As always — almost every verse of this book is this way — John is alluding to the Old Testament. So if you’re a first century Jew, you’re reading the Apocalypse of John, and you hear about a number of descendants that no one — I’m sorry, a number of people that no one could count, what would that make you think of? It makes you think of Abraham. In Genesis 12 and then again in Genesis 15, God takes Moses — sorry. They both have long white beards, so I get them mixed up. God takes Abraham out and says:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

So the idea of an innumerable multitude of people — there’s just too many to even to count — fits with Abraham’s… or is an allusion to God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be as many as the stars of Heaven. So many that you can’t even count them.

So on the one hand, what John is seeing here is a vision of what we would call the saints, the saved in Heaven. On the other hand, what he’s seeing from a Jewish perspective is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham about his innumerable multitudes that would come from many nations, because in chapter 12 and then again in chapter 15 and 22, God is going to say, “All the nations of the Earth shall be blessed through you, Abraham.”

So this is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise, which is all the Gospel ever was, anyway — the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. And so John sees this image here, and I want you to notice something. If John is having a vision of the Church Triumphant — we’re going to see that in a second, of those who are saved — notice its makeup. What does he say? Not only is it innumerable, but it’s from every nation. And the Greek word there for nation is ethnos. We get the word “ethnic” from it.

So the Church as John sees it isn’t just big; it’s not just innumerable people. It’s multi-ethnic. So it’s a number of ethnicities. It’s a number of people. It’s also multilingual, because he says not only are they:

… from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues…

So it’s multiethnic. It’s multilingual. There are many different languages. And in that case, what passage would that make you think of? Tower of Babel, Genesis 11, which is right before Genesis 12, believe it or not. So you have chapter 12, the promise of the blessing of all the nations. Chapter 11 is the description of the various languages. And so what we’re seeing here is not just the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, but the undoing of the division of humanity at the Tower of Babel. They are all being reunited, not through their own power — like in Genesis 11 — but through God.

And what is it that’s uniting them? They are:

…standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…

Now why are they having palm branches in their hands? Because in the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus 23 — and also later in Jewish writings, like 2 Maccabees, which is from much later times written in Greek — the image of having a palm branch, waving a palm branch, was something associated with the Feast of Tabernacles…also with royal processions. When a king would come, he would have palm branches out to kind of greet him — like in the triumphal entry, for example.

So in this case, it’s fascinating — the fact that they have palm branches in their hands means that they are in a sense celebrating a kind of heavenly Feast of Tabernacles in the presence of a king. And of course, that’s exactly what they are doing. Because in Jewish theology, the Feast of Tabernacles was a joyful feast in Jewish practice at the time of Jesus. It was a celebration that not only looked back to the exodus from Egypt to the liberation from Egypt and the people dwelling in tabernacles or tents as they journeyed through the desert…but the Jews also eventually saw it as an anticipation of the peace and the joy of the new creation.

So they would not only have tents and things to recline and rest and sleep outdoors in, but they would celebrate with the fruits of the fall harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles, they’d have — in addition to their palm branches, they’d have their first fruits of the fall harvest. They’d have wine and… it was a celebratory festival. It was meant to kind of, in a sense, give you a little foretaste of what the new world would be like, what the new creation would be like.

So in this case, John is seeing not only them having a foretaste of the new creation and of salvation, but actually experiencing it. So it’s fitting that they would have palm branches in their hands. Although in this case, the thing that would be striking to a Jewish reader is it’s Gentiles celebrating Tabernacles. So this is clearly an eschatological Feast of Tabernacles. It’s a beautiful, powerful vision of the joy and the glory of Heaven.

And so they’re singing. They’re crying out with a loud voice. They’ve got these palm branches in their hand, and John’s amazed by what he’s seeing. And one of these heavenly beings, the elders, turns to him and says...

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Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


***Subscribe or Login for Full Access.***

GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

Alright, so with that in mind then we’ll go back to John 10, and ask about that final line. Once Jesus has asserted that the Father is more powerful than all (and in context there he’s talking about that he’s more powerful, he’s greater than the enemy. He’s greater than the evil one. He’s greater than the devil who tries to steal Jesus’ sheep.) In that context, Jesus then says “I and the Father are one.” Now, what does that mean? That is a powerful, powerful statement. And you can see it can be taken in a number of different ways. It could be taken in terms of union with God, like “I and God are…we’re one. We are united morally, or we see things the same way.” But it could also be taken in terms of a unity of natures, “I and the Father are one”, meaning “He is all-powerful and I am all-powerful.” “He is God and I am God.” So, how do we interpret this verse? Well, as always, the clue to explaining the verse is in the context. So, in the context of a discourse on the Good Shepherd, and in the context of verses in which Jesus has just said that the sheep ultimately belong to the Father — which means, “He is the good shepherd who has given the sheep to the son (given the sheep to Jesus)” — in that context, for Jesus to say “I and the Father are one”, it implies that he’s identifying himself with the Divine Shepherd. And if you are wondering, “What do you mean ‘the divine shepherd’?” Well think of it from an ancient Jewish perspective. In the Old Testament scriptures, who is the Good Shepherd? Who is the image of the good shepherd used for? Well, it’s used for the Lord, the one God of Israel. The most famous example of this is of course Psalm 23. And what’s the first verse? Even people who don’t know anything about the Bible know the first verse of Psalm 23: “The Lord (and that’s the Hebrew letters YHWH – The Tetragrammaton) is my shepherd. I shall not want.” And then David goes on to give this whole Psalm where he depicts the Lord as the true shepherd. But then there are other passages as well. Ezekiel 34-36, I don’t have time to read from those passages, but in those chapters of the prophet Ezekiel, God himself talks about the wicked shepherds over Israel. He’s basically referring to the priests in the Jerusalem Temple, who instead of caring for the flock have slaughtered the lambs and fleeced them (literally), in terms of extorting them and abusing them. And so what God says is, “I myself will come and gather my flock” in Ezekiel 34-36. So God reveals that in the age of salvation, he is going to come as shepherd to gather his flock himself. Actually, now that I think about it, let’s go back and just look at those verses real quick. Even though they’re not in the readings for today, they’re actually very helpful. They’re the context for Jesus’ words. So if you go back to Ezekiel 34:11, this is what the prophecy says:

"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

So notice, what is God saying? He’s saying because the shepherds of Israel (the chief priests and the elders) have proven themselves to be wicked, he is going to come in person and save his flock. He’s going to come in person and gather the scattered sheep of the people of Israel. So in that context, think about it, if you’re a first century Jew, you’re waiting for the age of the messiah, you’re waiting for the age of salvation, and you know the prophecy of Ezekiel, that God says, “In the future age of salvation, when I gather the people of Israel once again, I’m going to come myself and be the good shepherd.” In that context, Jesus now comes in the Temple and says, “I am the good shepherd, my sheep hear my voice. I know them. I give them eternal life.” And in that context he says, “I and the Father are one.” What’s he revealing? He’s revealing that he himself is the divine shepherd who has come to gather his sheep. Now, it’s a little unfortunate that the lectionary ends with verse 30. Because if you had any doubts about the interpretation I’ve just given you, that Jesus is claiming to be God when he says “I and the Father are one”, all you would have to do is look at the next verses in the Gospel of John, because after Jesus says “I and the Father are one” (although the lectionary doesn’t read it), verses 31-33 says this:

“I and the Father are one.”

That is verse 30.  Now look at verse 31.

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God."

However later interpreters might try to get out of the divine implications of Jesus’ words by saying that he has a moral unity with God, or a spiritual unity with God, or some other kind of oneness with God other than divine nature, it’s very clear that (in the Gospel of John) Jesus’ original Jewish audience totally gets the point. They actually get it so clearly that they pick up stones to stone him to death, because the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning. And he says, “Well wait, before you stone me, what good deed have I done that you’re going to stone me for?” He’s kind of tongue-in-cheek there. And they say, “We stone you for no good work but for blasphemy, because you being a man, make yourself God.” The Greek word there is theos (in English, if you transliterate it). Theos, from which we get theology. So they understand he is making himself God. This is a climactic moment in the Gospel of John, where Jesus isn’t just revealing he’s the Good Shepherd, he’s revealing his divinity. That he is the Divine Shepherd of Israel who has now come in person to save his people.

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

But the Church uses it frequently — and not just here but in other places in the lectionary — as an image for the Church Triumphant, the heavenly Church.

And when John says he had a vision of a:

…great multitude which no man could number…

As always — almost every verse of this book is this way — John is alluding to the Old Testament. So if you’re a first century Jew, you’re reading the Apocalypse of John, and you hear about a number of descendants that no one — I’m sorry, a number of people that no one could count, what would that make you think of? It makes you think of Abraham. In Genesis 12 and then again in Genesis 15, God takes Moses — sorry. They both have long white beards, so I get them mixed up. God takes Abraham out and says:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

So the idea of an innumerable multitude of people — there’s just too many to even to count — fits with Abraham’s… or is an allusion to God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be as many as the stars of Heaven. So many that you can’t even count them.

So on the one hand, what John is seeing here is a vision of what we would call the saints, the saved in Heaven. On the other hand, what he’s seeing from a Jewish perspective is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham about his innumerable multitudes that would come from many nations, because in chapter 12 and then again in chapter 15 and 22, God is going to say, “All the nations of the Earth shall be blessed through you, Abraham.”

So this is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise, which is all the Gospel ever was, anyway — the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. And so John sees this image here, and I want you to notice something. If John is having a vision of the Church Triumphant — we’re going to see that in a second, of those who are saved — notice its makeup. What does he say? Not only is it innumerable, but it’s from every nation. And the Greek word there for nation is ethnos. We get the word “ethnic” from it.

So the Church as John sees it isn’t just big; it’s not just innumerable people. It’s multi-ethnic. So it’s a number of ethnicities. It’s a number of people. It’s also multilingual, because he says not only are they:

… from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues…

So it’s multiethnic. It’s multilingual. There are many different languages. And in that case, what passage would that make you think of? Tower of Babel, Genesis 11, which is right before Genesis 12, believe it or not. So you have chapter 12, the promise of the blessing of all the nations. Chapter 11 is the description of the various languages. And so what we’re seeing here is not just the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, but the undoing of the division of humanity at the Tower of Babel. They are all being reunited, not through their own power — like in Genesis 11 — but through God.

And what is it that’s uniting them? They are:

…standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…

Now why are they having palm branches in their hands? Because in the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus 23 — and also later in Jewish writings, like 2 Maccabees, which is from much later times written in Greek — the image of having a palm branch, waving a palm branch, was something associated with the Feast of Tabernacles…also with royal processions. When a king would come, he would have palm branches out to kind of greet him — like in the triumphal entry, for example.

So in this case, it’s fascinating — the fact that they have palm branches in their hands means that they are in a sense celebrating a kind of heavenly Feast of Tabernacles in the presence of a king. And of course, that’s exactly what they are doing. Because in Jewish theology, the Feast of Tabernacles was a joyful feast in Jewish practice at the time of Jesus. It was a celebration that not only looked back to the exodus from Egypt to the liberation from Egypt and the people dwelling in tabernacles or tents as they journeyed through the desert…but the Jews also eventually saw it as an anticipation of the peace and the joy of the new creation.

So they would not only have tents and things to recline and rest and sleep outdoors in, but they would celebrate with the fruits of the fall harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles, they’d have — in addition to their palm branches, they’d have their first fruits of the fall harvest. They’d have wine and… it was a celebratory festival. It was meant to kind of, in a sense, give you a little foretaste of what the new world would be like, what the new creation would be like.

So in this case, John is seeing not only them having a foretaste of the new creation and of salvation, but actually experiencing it. So it’s fitting that they would have palm branches in their hands. Although in this case, the thing that would be striking to a Jewish reader is it’s Gentiles celebrating Tabernacles. So this is clearly an eschatological Feast of Tabernacles. It’s a beautiful, powerful vision of the joy and the glory of Heaven.

And so they’re singing. They’re crying out with a loud voice. They’ve got these palm branches in their hand, and John’s amazed by what he’s seeing. And one of these heavenly beings, the elders, turns to him and says...

For full access subscribe here >

 



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Dr Pitre is amazing. The way he teaches makes it so easy to understand. He gives me answers to questions I never thought to ask. Without hesitation I will be buying more Bible studies that he has done.

Fantastic

This is a great talk on what Catholics believe about Mary. The book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary is more detailed. I highly recommend both. As usual, Dr. Pitre does a great job!

The Jewish Roots of Holy Week

I liked “The Jewish Roots of Holy Week :The Seven Last Days of Jesus” very much and appreciate that you divided it into chapters so that I can use it during Lent next year. Your prices are so reasonable too! Thank you!

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Excellent lecture with terrific information. Always enjoy Dr Bergsma's teaching and style.

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