Signpost for Sunday 2 June: Isaiah 42:10-20; Acts 10: 34-43; John 15: 9-17.
If you enjoy pipi, paua, prawns, mussels, crab, cray fish or caviar, you’re a right ole Gentile. As far as the ancient, and some rather fundamental modern, Jews are concerned, anyway. Tucking into pork chops, rabbit stew and frogs’ legs would be frowned on, too.
And yet, the ancient Jews don’t leave Gentiles out in the cold when it comes to good news in the scriptures, old and new. Isaiah 42: 10-12 seems to be calling out to Gentiles who just like the Jews have been oppressed by the Assyrians and Babylonians; they didn’t just drag the Jews into exile, they treated everyone they conquered the same.
So if we translate ‘the Lord’ as ‘the Almighty’, which apparently some scholars say we should, then Isaiah might be referring to Almighty Cyrus the Persian, who will restore the Jewish people and a bunch of Gentiles to Israel and Judea. And if he is referring to the end of the Assyrian and Babylonian oppression “in those days and at that time” that would be a time worth singing about (42:10). On the other hand, “sing to Cyrus the Persian a new song” just doesn’t have the same ring about it.
Just before our Acts reading begins, Peter finds out that he can have sausages for breakfast (Acts 10:10-15). Slices of salami probably, since Cornelius, reputedly the first Gentile to become a Christian was a Roman centurion. Cornelius is called a God-fearer, which is another way of saying he was a monotheist, a Gentile who had realised that worshiping a bunch of adulterous, warring and rather tetchy gods didn’t make a lot of sense. Smart people in Greece and Rome had worked that out many years before. Plato and Socrates were monotheists, and One-God-fearing Gentiles are mentioned as far back as Ps 115:9-13, Ps 118:2-4, and Ps 135:19-20. The penny (or the denarius) drops for Peter in Acts 10:34.
The gospel reading is not about Gentiles but most modern day Gentile Christians know it well. John 15:13 is the memorable and controversial verse. First off, is Jesus speaking about what he is about to do? Or is he talking about what his disciples have to be prepared to do? I think it’s the latter because this whole passage focuses on love as an action, not a feeling (love is mentioned eight times between verses 9 and 17). Even more controversially, I remember from when I was studying the poetry of Wilfred Owen at Grammar school that in the First World War John 15:13 was often used to encourage men to sign up and march off to death in the trenches. Not good news.