Pericopes and Context

Gospel-of-John-logo2One of the topics most (if not all) students of the Bible should be familiar with is exegesis. Simply put, it means to give your best effort to let the text tell you what it had to say without trying to place your meaning on top of the words. Part of that training is to begin to gain a sense of when the context changes – e.g., when has Jesus changed locations, changed audiences, or perhaps has begun to specifically address a small group within the larger group of people. You have to know when one pericope (pe-ric-o-pe) ends and the next one begins; pericope being a section, a part of the larger narrative. [Sorry, I just had to use the word. It is from the Greek peri- + kopē, the act of cutting.]

This coming Sunday (May 25) is one of those times when the good folk who choose the Gospel are challenged in how to select a cohesive and compact reading from the very long “Farewell Discourse” in the Gospel according to John (14:1-16:33). And by the way, some scholars say the larger pericope extends to John 17:26, others call John 17:1-26 the “Farewell Prayer” and distinguish it from the discourse. Different decision on where “to cut.” The gospel for Sunday,  May 25, in the Roman Catholic lectionary is John 14:15-21.

Shown immediately below is the text that surrounds our Sunday gospel. Take a moment to read John 14:1-31 (the text in italics is the Sunday gospel) and think about when you would mark the stop/start of a Sunday gospel.  Would you include more to add context? Would you include less?

  • Gail R. O’Day in her commentary, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, (Abingdon Press, 1996) 745-50, sets the boundaries at John 14:12-24.
  • Francis J. Moloney, in his commentary, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina, (Liturgical Press, 1998) 400-408 sets the boundaries at John 14:15-24

John 14:1-34  (the Sunday gospel is vv. 15-21)

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. 4 Where (I) am going you know the way.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. 12 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

22 Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, “Master, (then) what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. 25 “I have told you this while I am with you. 26 The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. 28 You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe. 30 I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, 31 but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. Get up, let us go.

So…what were the verses for your pericope?

Gospel for the 6th Sunday in Easter – Context. The gospel text is part of a larger section which includes the Last Supper and all that takes place after Jesus had washed the disciples feet, after Judas has left the table (“he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night” (13:30)), and after Peter’s protestations he would never betray Jesus. The section comes before the disciples see their master led away for trial; then be condemned to death on a cross. Their faith will be sorely tested. It was to fortify them in these circumstances that Jesus’ teaching, beginning in 14:1, was given. O’Day suggests a broad outline of the context for our reading:

  • The Farewell Meal (13:1-38)
  • The Farewell Discourse (14:1-16:33)
  • The Farewell Prayer (17:1-26)

John 14:1-10 is the gospel reading for the preceding week (5th Easter, Year A) in which the disciples are reminded to “believe into Jesus” (v.1) because Jesus is the “way and the truth and the life” (v.8). And it is in that belief that the apostles will do “greater” works (v.12) – by doing what Jesus does, the disciples of every age continue the glorification of God through Jesus that was the purpose of Jesus own works (v.13; cf 5:44; 11:4; 17:4).

2 thoughts on “Pericopes and Context

  1. I carry my “New American Bible” to weekday Mass. Throughout the past years, I have penciled out each of the weekday divisions of the text, with chapter & verse, lectionary number, and position on the Church calender.
    It’s fascinating to see each reading within the context of the entire Book–but sometimes startling to read the lines that have been left out of the pericope.

    For example, today, Week 5 Easter Monday, Acts 14:5-18, the pericope ends with the crowd at Lystra set to offer sacrifice to Paul & Barnabas as Greek gods. However, the very next line shows the price St. Paul paid for standing up for Jesus–being stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead! As Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story”!

    …Those who go to weekday Mass have been reading the entire Farewell Discourse sequentially since Week 4 Easter Friday. All the more reason to come to weekday Mass, to be fed by the Real Presence, both in the Word and the Eucharist.

    I have been impressed with how well the Church has done with this monumental task of selecting texts to fill in the weekday and Sunday cycles of readings. Amazing! Alleluia! …It’s particularly interesting to see what texts are paired to feast days for the various saints.

  2. “Exegesis. Simply put, it means to give your best effort to let the text tell you what it had to say without trying to place your meaning on top of the words. Part of that training is to begin…” I have never heard of this, thank you, I will try and read up on it.

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