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10:1 8 . Cornelius is divinely warned to send for Peter
St Luke now brings to our notice the circumstances which attended the first preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. The Apostles, though informed by Christ’s commission that they were to “teach all nations,” yet tarried the Lord’s leisure, and waited till the Spirit, who was their constant guide, shewed them a door opened for such extension of their labours. The first Gentile converts seem to have been living in some sort of communion with the Jews of Cæsarea, for Cornelius, the representative figure among them, was “of good report among all that nation,” but yet from the complaints of the brethren at Jerusalem, when they heard what Peter had done, we can see that Cornelius was one of the “sinners of the Gentiles.” “Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised and didst eat with them” expresses the shock, which the strict observers of the Law experienced in this new development of the Church, and even Peter himself, though chosen to inaugurate the preaching to the Gentiles, was not always proof against the scruples and remonstrances of his brethren of the circumcision (Galatians 2:12 ).
1 . There was a certain man in Cesarea ] The oldest MSS. omit the verb was here, and make the sentence read, “Now a certain man in Cæsarea … a devout man … which gave much alms … saw in a vision, &c.” Cæsarea is the same place which is mentioned 8:40, and was usually the residence of the Roman Procurator (see 23:23 26, 25:1 4). The soldiers over whom Cornelius was centurion were the necessary troops to support the state and authority of the Roman representative, who at this time was Herod Agrippa, whom Claudius had made king over Judæa and Samaria.
called Cornelius ] Lit. “Cornelius by name.” The name shews he was a Roman, and perhaps he may have been of the famous Cornelian Gens. But there were also many plebeians of this name, for Sulla (Appian B. C. i. 100) bestowed the Roman franchise on 10,000 slaves and called them after his own name, “Cornelii.”
a centurion ] This was not a distinguished office. He was commander of the sixth part of a cohort, i.e. of half a maniple. The name must have been given to such officer when his command was over a hundred men. The Roman legion in these times was divided into ten cohorts, and each cohort into three maniples, so that the nominal strength of the legion would be 6000 men.
of the band ] i.e. the cohort. Such a troop was stationed in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:27 ).
called the Italian band ] The name at first would be given to it from the country in which it was raised, but no doubt it would afterwards be recruited from other parts, and yet still retain its original title. Tacitus ( Hist . i. 59 &c.) mentions an Italian legion. A centurion of a similar band, which was styled “Augustan,” is mentioned (27:1) below.
2 . a devout man ] i.e. he was a worshipper of the true God, but had not joined himself to the Jews in the observance of the Law. The language of St Peter in v. 28 shews us that he was not a complete proselyte. Wherever in the N. T. we find mention made of Roman centurions they appear to have been good men, Matthew 8:5 ; Luke 7:2 , Luke 23:47 .
and one that feared God with all his house ] The earnestness of his devotion to God is evidenced by the character of his household. If his family be here meant, he had instructed them in the worship of God, and had provided that those who attended on him should also be of the same character. The soldier, whom he sends to Peter, is called “devout” in v. 7.
which gave much alms to the people ] i.e. to the Jewish people among whom he was stationed. He was like the centurion (Luke 7:5 ) of whom the Jews said, “He loveth our nation and hath built us a synagogue.”
and prayed to God alway ] thus shewing himself anxious for greater knowledge of God’s way, which from 11:14 we learn must have been the purport of the prayer of Cornelius.
3 . He saw in a vision evidently [ openly ] i.e. he was not in a trance, as we read afterwards concerning Peter, but was employed in prayer when the angel appeared. See below, v. 30.
about the ninth hour of the day ] This was the hour for evening prayer see 3:1. So we can see that Cornelius had adopted the Jewish hours of prayer.
4 . And when he looked on him ] Literally, “having fastened his eyes on him.” The angel is called ( v. 30) “a man in bright clothing.” Such a sight would rivet the centurion’s gaze at the first, and then the heavenly nature of the visitor made itself evident, and he was afraid.
What is it, Lord? ] His language expresses his readiness to perform what shall be commanded, and his question implies, “What wilt thou have me to do?”
Thy prayers and thine alms are come [ have gone ] up ] The idea is that of the prayers, like incense, when offered ascending up to God. Cp. Revelation 8:3 , Revelation 8:4 , also v. 8, “vials full of odours which are the prayers of saints.” Cf. Psalms 141:2 .
for a memorial before God ] They have been such as to be remembered before God, and now He is about to answer them. The portion of the meal offering which the priest was commanded to burn upon the altar to be an offering of a sweet savour unto the Lord (Leviticus 2:2 ) was called a “memorial,” and the allusion is to the offerings of this kind. Cp. the words of the angel (Tobit 12:12), “I did bring the remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One,” where the Greek word for “remembrance” is that which is here rendered “memorial.”
6 . he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do ] These words are not in the oldest MSS. In Peter’s own account of the visit to Cornelius (11:14) we have “who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved;” and this is one of the numerous instances found in some later texts of the Acts where an attempt has been made to form a complete narrative in the earlier chapters by gathering together and adapting statements which appear in their proper place in later chapters. The prayers of Cornelius had been for more knowledge and greater light, and the angel directs him to the instructor whom he desires. The inserted words probably first appeared as a note on the margin.
7 . And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius [ him ] was departed ] The proper name does not appear in the oldest MSS. When the additional note on the last verse had found its way into the text, the name of Cornelius was placed instead of the pronoun for greater clearness. The reality of the angelic presence is strongly marked by these words which speak of his going away from the sight of Cornelius as any human being would have departed.
a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually ] Better, “of them that attended on him.” The soldier was attached to the personal service of Cornelius in the same way as that in which the soldiers were under that other centurion (Luke 7:8 ) who could say to one, “Go,” and he was obeyed.
8 . And when he had declared all these things unto them ] Omit “these” which is not in the Greek. The confidence which Cornelius placed in those who attended on him is shewn by this open communication with them at once on the subject of his vision. They had known all his former hopes and prayers, and so were fit persons to be made sharers in what seemed to be the answer.
9 16 . Peter is prepared for their visit by a Vision
9 . Peter went up upon the house ] With the flat roofs of Eastern houses, to which access could be obtained from outside without passing through the rooms of the building, the housetop formed a convenient place for retirement. It was the place chosen by Samuel (1 Samuel 9:25-26 ) for his conference with Saul before he anointed him king. Cp. also 2 Samuel 11:2 .
to pray ] We find that the housetop was used for religious purposes (Jeremiah 19:13 ; Zephaniah 1:5 ). These instances are of worship paid to false gods, but if the one worship, we may believe that the other also was performed there.
about the sixth hour ] i.e. midday, and the second of the Jewish stated hours of prayer. We see from vv. 23 and 24 that the journey from Joppa to Cæsarea occupied more than one day, so that the vision of Cornelius took place on the day before the trance of St Peter and the messengers had time almost to accomplish their journey before the Apostle, by his vision, was prepared to receive them. The distance between the two places was 30 Roman miles.
10 . he fell into a trance ] So that the vision was seen by him only mentally, when he was rapt out of the body, and beheld all things as a man in a dream.
11 . and saw [ beholdeth ] heaven opened ] To shew him that the teaching of the vision was sent to him from God.
and a certain vessel descending unto him ] The oldest MSS. omit the two last words.
as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth ] The oldest MSS. only give “a great sheet let down by four corners upon the earth.” The word rendered “corners” is used of the “end of a cord” in Herod. 4:60, but it seems that for such a sense there must be added either a noun or adjective for explanation. What the Apostle saw was an extended sheet, the four corners of which were held up as it were by cords let down from the four extremities of the opened sky. The significance of the outstretched sheet, as a figure of the wide world, and the four corners as the directions into which the gospel was now to be borne forth into all the world, has often been dwelt upon.
12 . wherein were ] i.e. appeared to be in the vision.
all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts ] The oldest MSS. omit the last six words. They have been inserted here that the text might more exactly correspond with what St Peter says in 11:6 (see note on v. 6). The vision represented the whole animal creation. There were in it living creatures typical of each kind, not a multitude of the same sort of birds and beasts.
13 . Rise, Peter; kill, and eat ] As he was hungry before he fell into the trance, here is presented the means of satisfying his hunger, and by the command in which he is directed to kill without distinction among all that he sees, this divinely-communicated abrogation of the law of Moses concerning the choice among living creatures afterwards informs his waking mind that now all the nations are to be alike included among God’s people.
14 . Not so, Lord ] Cp. Ezekiel 4:14 , where the prophet being shewn that the children of Israel shall eat defiled bread among the Gentiles, exclaims in words very like St Peter’s: “There never came abominable flesh into my mouth.” For the care with which the devout Jew observed the ceremonial distinction between clean and unclean, see Daniel 1:8-12 ; Daniel 2:0 Macc. 6:18.
common or unclean ] The oldest authorities read “common and unclean.” The use of “common” in the sense of impure according to the Mosaic ritual is, as were the ordinances about which this language was employed, peculiar to the Jews. But it is easy to trace the steps by which the word came to be used thus. All persons who were not Jews were viewed as the “common” rabble, shut out from God’s covenant, then whatever practices of these outcasts differed from those of the chosen people were called “common” things, and as these “common” things were those forbidden by the Law, all such prohibited things or actions became known as “common.” Cp. Mark 7:2 , where the margin explains that “ defiled hands” is in the original “ common hands.”
15 . And the [a] voice spake unto him again the second time ] coming from heaven as the first voice had come. There is no verb in the original, and it would perhaps be better to supply “came” rather than “spake.”
What God hath cleansed, that call [ make ] not thou common ] The heaven-sent voice revokes what had been enjoined from heaven at the giving of the Law. The power which made the restriction can remove it. That it would be removed Christ had intimated (Matthew 15:11 ), “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man.” The old dispensation is now to give place to the new, and Peter is taught by the vision that men are not to make such distinctions and separations for themselves. “For meat destroy not the work of God” (Romans 14:20 ).
16 . This was done thrice ] The original has a conjunction “And” at the commencement of the sentence.
The repetition of the vision three times over was made that no doubt might remain in the Apostle’s mind, and the reception of the whole into heaven again was designed to point out that it was a lesson which God had as directly sent as of old He sent the Law on Sinai. Cp. the repetition of Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:32 ) and Joseph’s explanation thereof. Peter would also remember when he came out of his trance the thrice-repeated charge given to him by Jesus (John 21:15-17 ), “Feed my sheep.”
17 24 . Arrival of the Messengers from Cornelius: Peter goes with them to Cæsarea
17 . Now while Peter doubted ( was much perplexed ) in himself ] The original verb implies “to be thoroughly at a loss, and not know which way to turn.” It is used (Luke 9:7 ) of Herod’s perplexity about Christ, when men said that John the Baptist was risen from the dead. Peter, aroused from his trance, was to apply what he had seen and heard, but he knew not how to begin the work.
stood before the gate ] Literally, at the porch . The position of the house had been described to Cornelius ( v. 6), and when his messengers found the details true, it must have given them confidence that their errand was to be a successful one.
18 . and called ] i.e. on some one within the house to come forth. These messengers, like Cornelius himself, were most probably Gentiles, and so might not feel justified in entering a Jewish house without giving notice of their presence.
19 . While Peter thought on the vision ] The original has a conjunction “Now” at the beginning of this verse.
Peter was turning over his difficulty in his mind, and asking what God would have him learn by this lesson about the abolition of differences in meats. And while he was thus pondering the explanation came.
the Spirit said unto him ] Thus the arrival of the three men was, by the inward admonition of the Spirit, connected with his vision.
three men ] The two servants and the soldier whom Cornelius had sent ( v. 7).
20 . get thee down ] Peter was still on the housetop.
doubting nothing ] The oldest texts give the verb here in the middle voice, as in James 1:6 , “nothing wavering,” but in the parallel passage, 11:12, it is active, and signifies “making no distinction,” i.e. between Jew and Gentile. The latter was used by the Apostle when events had taught him precisely what the vision and the spiritual exhortation meant. The Spirit’s teaching is given little by little as Christ had told His disciples that it should be, “He shall guide you (lit. lead you on the way) unto all truth” (John 16:13 ). The vision had given no hint of a journey to be taken; now Peter is informed of it, and so too when the end of the journey is reached the “nothing wavering” is shewn to mean “putting no distinction between Jews and other men,” and thus the vision was made intelligible little by little and the perplexity removed.
21 . Then (And) Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius ] The last seven words are not in the oldest Greek texts, and are clearly an addition of later date to make the text quite clear.
22 . of good report among all the nation of the Jews ] For the alms-deeds which he did, and on account of his reverence for the true God. They say not only among the people of Cæsarea was the piety of Cornelius known, but among all the Jews.
was warned from God ] There is no Greek for “from God,” but the verb is one constantly used of messages from above. Thus of Joseph’s warnings (Matthew 2:12 , Matthew 2:22 ), of Simeon’s Divine revelation (Luke 2:26 ), and of the admonitions sent to Moses (Hebrews 8:5 ), and to Noah (Hebrews 11:7 ).
to hear words of thee ] i.e. to receive commandments from thee and learn what God would have him to do (cp. 11:14). By the Jews the ten commandments are constantly called “the ten words ,” “God spake these words , saying,” &c. (Exodus 20:1 ).
23 . Then called he them in, and lodged them ] This was the first step towards laying aside the scruples to which the Jews were so much attached.
And on the morrow Peter went away with them ] The best texts read “And on the morrow he arose and went forth with them.”
and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him ] In 11:12 we are told they were six in number, and in v. 45 of this chapter they are called “they of the circumcision which believed.” So these men were Jews, and Peter took them for his companions that he might, if need were, afterwards appeal to them for testimony of what was done, and to explain why he had acted as he did. No doubt they were informed by him of the message which the servants of Cornelius had brought, and the good repute of this devout man would weigh with them and make them ready to go.
24 . And the morrow after they entered into Cesarea ] Their road lay all the way along the coast, and as Apollonia was situate about halfway between Joppa and Cæsarea, it is most likely that they passed the night there.
And Cornelius waited ( was waiting ) for them ] His attitude of preparation shews how convinced he was of the reality of his vision, and that God was about to give him an answer to his prayers.
his kinsmen and near friends ] These we can hardly doubt were men of like mind with Cornelius in their faith and worship, and so had naturally been told of the answer which he was expecting, and invited to be present when Peter arrived.
25 33 . Arrival of Peter. Cornelius explains why he had sent for him
25 . And as Peter was coming in ] The Greek is literally, “And as it came to pass that Peter entered,” i.e. before he went in, for we read of his entrance in v. 27.
worshipped him ] paying him the religious reverence which the supernatural direction of the angel concerning Peter would be likely to prompt. This act of obeisance in the Roman officer marks most strongly his sense that Peter was God’s messenger. Such acts were not usual among Roman soldiers.
26 . But Peter took ( raised ) him up ] Cp. with the way in which Peter here declines to permit such reverence, the way in which the angel (Revelation 19:10 ) refused such worship, “See thou do it not. I am thy fellowservant.”
27 . And as he talked with him, he went in ] So that the previous part of the interview had been without. The action of Cornelius in thus coming forth to meet Peter is in the spirit of that other centurion in the Gospel, who said (Luke 7:6 ), “I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.” The Greek word here rendered “talked” indicates the communication made during an interview of some length. The subsequent remarks of St Peter shew us that he had been told many things by Cornelius, which are not specially mentioned, but comprehended under this word “talked.”
and found ( findeth ) many , &c.] For the character of Cornelius had won him many attached friends.
28 . Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing , &c.] It is said expressly by Maimonides, Hilechoth Rozeakh, &c . xii. 7, “It is forbidden to a Jew to be alone with heathens, because they are suspected of (lightly) shedding blood, nor must he associate with them on the road.” And in the Midrash Rabbah on Leviticus, cap. 20 ( ad fin .), there is an interesting example of the sort of ceremonial defilement which association with the heathen might bring about, “It happened that Shimeon the son of Kimkhith (who was high-priest) went out to speak with the King of the Arabians, and there came a fleck of spittle from the King’s mouth upon the priest’s garment and so he was unclean; and his brother Judah went in and served instead of him in the high-priest’s office. That day their mother saw two of her sons high-priests.” The Apostle speaks of the prohibition as a thing well known to those who heard him, and the action of the messengers of Cornelius in standing outside the house of Simon and calling out some one to question in the open air shews that they were aware of the dislike of the Jews to associate with Gentiles. We have evidence that this dislike was well known wherever the Jews resided from the words of Juvenal (xiv. 103), “Non monstrare vias eadem nisi sacra colenti.” So Tacitus ( Hist . v. 5), “separati epulis, discreti cubilibus.”
to keep company ] Lit. “to join himself.” The word is the same as in the command to Philip (8:29), “Go near and join thyself to this chariot;” and signifies intimate intercourse. The ordinary dealings of life must constantly have forced Jews to be in the company of Gentiles, but it was to be avoided if possible.
but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean ] The Spirit’s command “Go with them doubting nothing, for I have sent them” has taught Peter how he is to interpret the figure shewn to him in his vision.
29 . without gainsaying ] Following in faith the guidance of the Spirit, though I only saw dimly what God would have me to do.
30 . Four days ago I was fasting until this hour , &c.] The oldest MSS. have “Four days ago until this hour I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house.” This makes the time of Peter’s arrival to be after the ninth hour of the day. The prayer-service to which Cornelius refers had begun and been continued for some time before the appearance of the angel.
in bright clothing ] See above, 1:10, note.
32 . who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee ] These words are not in the oldest MSS., though they are found in some very good authorities.
33 . to hear all things that are commanded thee of God ] The oldest authorities read “of the Lord.” In “hear” there is implied the intention to obey. For the words which the centurion expected to hear from Peter were words “whereby he and all his house might be saved.”
34 43 . Speech of Peter to Cornelius and his friends
34 . Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons ] i.e. I am now fully convinced, from what I have heard of God’s angel appearing to Cornelius and from the connection of that vision with my own, that God is making Himself known to all the workers of righteousness whether they be Jews or Gentiles.
35 . is accepted with him ] i.e. is acceptable unto Him. God has no longer a chosen people, but calleth all men to repent, and will accept them.
36 . The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all )] The construction and meaning of this and the two following verses are somewhat involved. The relative “which” is left out of this verse by the oldest MSS., and “God” is not represented in the Greek. So that the literal translation would be, “He (i.e. God, mentioned in the previous verse) sent the word unto the children of Israel, preaching the gospel of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all). The “word” in this verse is the message of the Messiah proclaimed by angels (Luke 2:14 ) as a message of glad tidings, and of peace on earth, through the birth of a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. This was first preached unto Israel as God’s chosen people, but now God is the giver of remission of sins to every one that believeth on Him (see v. 43). The message of peace now was not only to be between God and the chosen race, but between God and the Jew and Gentile alike.
37 . that word, I say, you know ] Better, “ye know the tidings.” The Greek rendered “word” here is not the same which is so translated in the previous verse. The former refers to the whole message of salvation through Christ, the latter to the tidings about Jesus which had gone abroad after the preaching of John the Baptist. These tidings Peter either assumes Cornelius and his friends to know because of the teaching which had already extended as far as Cæsarea (8:40), or else he has learnt that they have this knowledge about the facts of the life of Jesus from the conversation which he held with the centurion at his first arrival. Hence he says “ye know of the history of Jesus.”
began from Galilee ] where Christ’s ministerial life commenced. See Matthew 4:12 ; Mark 1:14 .
38 . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth ] It seems better to take the name “Jesus of Nazareth” as in apposition with the tidings mentioned in the previous verse, making the connection thus: Ye know the tidings, &c., “even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him,” &c. This is the whole scope of what was preached, that Jesus had lived as a man in Nazareth, but yet had been God’s Anointed, the Messiah, and shewn to be so by the mighty works which He did.
healing all that were oppressed of the devil ] This is perhaps mentioned as shewing that the power of Jesus was to be not only over physical but over moral evil likewise, and this alone is mentioned because in the healing of the greater, the power to cure the less evil is implied.
for God was with him ] As Nicodemus confessed, “No man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him” (John 3:2 ).
39 . And we are witnesses of all things ] Because they had been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministerial life (Luke 24:48 ).
whom they slew and hanged on a tree ] Rather (with the oldest MSS.) “whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree.” For the latter part of the expression cp. v. 30 note.
40 . him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly ( gave him to be made manifest )] The literal translation implies more than the A. V. Christ was not openly shewed, but by many proofs it was made clear to those who saw Him that it was the same body, even though now glorified, which had been wounded on the cross, that was alive again.
41 . not to all the people ] For they, having rejected Moses and the prophets, who foretold Christ’s coming, and the nature of His Kingdom, were not likely, as Jesus Himself had said of some others of like character, to be converted by the rising of any one from the dead.
witnesses chosen before of God ] Christ Himself speaks (John 17:6 ) of the Apostles as given unto Him by God.
even to us ] Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:6-8 .
who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead ] See Luke 24:42 , Luke 24:43 . And in the narrative John 21:12-15 it is to be inferred, especially from the last verse, that Jesus Himself partook of the food which He gave to the rest.
42 . And he commanded us to preach unto the people ] This was among the commandments alluded to Acts 1:2 . Compare the charge given by Christ, Matthew 28:19 , where the wide commission “Go ye, teach all nations,” is one that anticipated the preaching of the Gospel not only to Cornelius, but to all other Gentiles.
that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead ] Cp. Christ’s words to the Jews (John 5:22 , John 5:27 ), “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son,” “and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.”
43 . To him give all the prophets witness ] Cp. Isaiah 49:6 , “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” Also Joel 2:32 , “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” So that under the Law the redemption of the Gentiles was seen afar off. The way in which St Peter uses the Jewish Scriptures to enforce his arguments is an evidence that Cornelius and his household were familiar with those writings.
44 48 . The Holy Ghost is sent upon Cornelius and his friends, and they are baptized
45 . they of the circumcision ] The six Jewish Christians mentioned in 11:12 as companions of St Peter.
46 . For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God ] The same kind of manifestation of God’s gifts was here made as in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. See 2:11.
47 . Can any man forbid water , &c.] Though the gift of the Spirit has been made so apparent, yet St Peter does not omit the outward sign which Christ had ordained (Matthew 28:19 ) for the admission of members into His Church.
as well as we ] Thus does he recognize that God had chosen Gentiles as well as Jews, and given the same grace to each.
48 . And he commanded them to be baptized ] Peter seems to have refrained from baptizing converts, and we know that St Paul did so, and the latter indicates a reason which may have influenced all the twelve to appoint others to baptize, lest factions should arise, and men sever the Christian unity by calling themselves by the name of some one of the Apostles. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:13-16 .
in the name of the Lord ] The oldest MSS. have “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Then prayed they him to tarry certain days ] It is probable that Peter consented to stay (see 11:3), and thus shewed that he was prepared to act according to the teaching of the vision. We know that afterwards (Galatians 2:11-13 ) he wavered in his determination, and was rebuked by St Paul for so doing; but even the account of that rebuke shews us that Peter had laid aside his Jewish prejudices in a great degree, and had only acted, in the way which was blamed, through the influence of some still strict Jews who had come from Jerusalem to Antioch. St Luke is not to be supposed to be ignorant of that wavering action of St Peter because he does not mention it. For a similar Christian reticence, in a like case, see 13:13 and note there.
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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29