For 4th Sunday of Easter (Cycle A) – May 7, 2017

“Be optimistic no matter what comes. We don’t have to be afraid; we are in God’s hands.”

(Mother Anna Maria Dengel)

 4th Sunday of Easter Theme: The Good Shepherd.

This fourth Sunday of the Easter season is called Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel reading invites us to reflect on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In all the readings, the familiar shepherd and flock figures are used to express the care, vigilance, and love of God for His people in the Old Testament and of Jesus for all humanity in the New Testament.

One of the oldest paintings of Christ, in the Roman catacombs, represents Christ as carrying the injured, straying sheep gently on His shoulders back to the sheepfold. This is an image of Christ which has always appealed to Christians. We have Christ as our shepherd – He tells us so Himself in today’s gospel – and we do not resent being called sheep in this context. There is something pure and warm about a sheep, and at the same time a lot of heedlessness! But with Christ as our Shepherd and the “Good Shepherd” who is sincerely interested in the true welfare of His flock we have reason to rejoice.

  • Reading 1 Acts of the Apostles 2:14a,36-41       Peter and the other apostles baptize 3,000 people.
  • Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 23:1-6       The Lord is my shepherd.
  • Reading 2 – 1 Peter 2:20b-25       We have been healed by the wounds of Christ.
  • Gospel –  John 10:1-10       Jesus is the gate for His sheep.

Reading 1       Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41           (Salvation in Jesus)

Context – The history of the early Church is represented in the New Testament by the Book of Acts. Luke, a physician and thought to be a companion of Paul, first wrote the “Gospel According to Luke” and then wrote the “Acts of the Apostles”. It is the only New Testament document devoted exclusively to the story of the early Church. The Catholic Church uses this book at Mass almost exclusively through the Easter season, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. According to Acts, the Church is a community entrusted with a mission to carry the “good news” of Jesus Christ forth to the whole world.

Today’s Reading –  This address proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, whom the Jews crucified, is the Messiah promised by God and eagerly awaited for by the righteous people of the Old Testament; it is He who has affected God’s saving plan for mankind. God made Jesus the Good Shepherd to guide His flock.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord (King, Sovereign) and Christ (Messiah, Anointed One), this Jesus (Savior) whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart (with sorrow for their sins, especially against Jesus.), and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you (see below at PAUSE), in the name of Jesus Christ (Baptized in the name of Jesus Christ means becoming a member of Christ (the Church community), becoming a Christian.) for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children (the Jews) and to all those far off (the Gentiles), whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.            “Repent and be baptized, every one of you”
Repentance involves a change of mind and heart first and secondarily a change of conduct. To repent is to turn away from sin (that is, turn away from the rejection of Jesus as Messiah in the case of the Jews, and idol worship in the case of pagans). Repentance is a positive concept, a change of mind and heart toward God reflected in the actual goodness of one’s life. It is in accord with the apostolic teaching derived from Jesus.

Baptism results in the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Luke presents baptism in Acts as the expected response to the apostolic preaching about Jesus, and associates it with the conferring of the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm.       Psalm 23:1-6             (Refuge in God)

Today’s Psalm –  In this well-loved psalm, the psalmist expresses a tremendous trust in God, our Good Shepherd.

R. – The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant
(abundant) pastures He gives me repose (peace); beside restful waters He leads me; He refreshes my soul.
R. – The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
He guides me in right paths for His name’s sake
(His name’s sake, whom He is named after, is that of the Good Shepherd.). Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for You are at my side. With Your rod (protects) and Your staff (guides) that give me courage.
R. – The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes
(This table is the Eucharist Altar  from which the devil tries to keep us away.); You anoint my head with oil (Protection – Shepherds put oil on the sheep’s head to protect them from insect bites.); my cup overflows (Friendship & companionship – A host, in Old Testament times, kept their guests’ drinking cup filled until he wanted them to leave.).
R. – The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell
(worship) in the house of the LORD for years to come.
R. – The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Reading 2       1 Peter 2:20b-25            (Christ Our Savior)

Context – The First Letter Of Peter was written to encourage the church members as they experience apparently undeserved trials and suffering. Also to provide practical advice on relations with the civil authorities, and within society and families. This message (letter) which we will study as our second reading all through the Easter season, is a faithful reflection of the catechesis (religious instruction) of apostolic times.

Today’s Reading – Peter reflects upon the passion (passion meaning both love and suffering) of Jesus and how that is a model for us to use to become Christlike.

Beloved: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When He was insulted, He returned no insult; when He suffered, He did not threaten; instead, He handed Himself over to the one who judges justly (God the Father). He Himself bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian (Jesus) of your souls.

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           “By His wounds you have been healed” –  “Jesus paid a debt He did not have because we had a debt we could not pay.”

Gospel       John 10:1-10            (The Good Shepherd)

Context – John’s Gospel was written around 90 AD. His Gospel has an evangelistic purpose – preaching about Christ for conversion to Him.  John explains the mystery of the person of Jesus – His eternal origin, divine and human nature. He is eternally present with God. So much of this Gospel is devoted to the heavenly identity and mission of Jesus that John was known as the “spiritual” Gospel in the ancient Church. The “divine family” of God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the towering mystery of the Fourth Gospel.

Today’s Reading –  Today’s reading takes place about four months before Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. In this passage, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will soon lay down His very life for His sheep – His followers. His willingness to put His life at risk for His followers makes Jesus a much more qualified leader than the Pharisees who are “thieves and robbers” who do not really care for the sheep and steal their opportunity to become righteous and rob their opportunity for eternal life in Christ.

Jesus said: “Amen, amen (see below at PAUSE), I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold (A sheepfold is a stone wall enclosure with a single entry way used to protect the flock at night from thieves and predators. It represents the Church.) through the gate (Jesus) but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber (unbeliever, unconverted, prideful). But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper (Holy Spirit) opens it for him, and the sheep (they are the faithful of Christ and those in the grace of God.) hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them (leads them by His instructions and example), and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what He was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the Gate for the sheep.  All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the Gate. Whoever enters through Me will be saved, and will come in and go out (It simply affirms the security and freedom of those who cling to Christ.) and find pasture (Find delight in converting others, and find joy even when persecuted by unbelievers for the name of Christ.). A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life (the life of righteousness) and have it more abundantly (eternal life).”

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.            “Amen, amen” –  In the Old Testament, the word “Amen” connotes agreement, certainty, faithfulness. It is used at the end of some psalms, curses, blessings, prayers, and prophecies to allow the hearers/readers to say, “So be it!” or “Yes, I agree!” .  Sometimes it is repeated twice for emphasis.

Similarly in the New Testament, “Amen” is used at the end of doxologies, blessings, and other prayers.

Jesus uses the phrase, “Amen, I say to you…,” at the beginning of His own statements, rather than in response to what someone else said. Thus, it is not an expression of agreement, but a literary device for emphasizing what He is about to say subsequently. It is translated “Verily I say unto you… (KJV); “Truly, I say to you…” (RSV); “Truly, I tell you” (NRSV); etc.

In the Gospel of John, the expression is used 25 times, only by Jesus, but always with a doubled “Amen, Amen” for extra emphasis, meaning – this is important!. This is like saying “Hear Ye, Hear Ye” – as used by royal messengers or town criers in medieval England.

Catechism 754 – “The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ. It is also the flock of which God Himself foretold that He would be the Shepherd, and Whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherds, who gave His life for His sheep.


The source and summit of our Christian life

Last Saturday, I was the concelebrant for my godson’s Mass where he received his “First Holy Communion”.  The church was filled to capacity and I was passing through the front door, the usher smiled to me and said, “Father, if only the Church could be filled like this every Sunday, it would be great”.  This statement by the usher to me sat with me all day and I began to reflect on how Vatican II has called the celebration of the Eucharist as the “source and summit of our Christian life”.

For the families and the new “communicants” gathered to celebrate and receive the Eucharist that day, I am sure the Eucharist was, at that moment, the source and summit of their life, but I began to wish for them that the Eucharist would continue to be the source and summit of the daily lives.

Of course, the children were all “cleaned and washed up” for their big day, but my hope and my prayer for them would that they might come to see that every time they celebrate the Eucharist, it is their BIG day.  Sure, there are different degrees of importance in our lives’ events, but my prayer was and continues to be for my godson and his classmates that they continue to see their intimate connection with Christ in the Eucharist as always a very special moment in their lives.

I surely came to a greater love and appreciation for the Eucharist in my life by participating in the First Communion Liturgy for these young Christians.  It gave me a great sense of gratitude for the gift of my priesthood and the priesthood of all Christians who participate in the breaking and the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ at this, the “most precious sacrament of the altar”……..Come let us receive what we are and become what we receive: the Body of Christ.