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May 7 2017 (A) fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

  1. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Lord, yesterday, today and for ever
  3. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 2:14, 36-41). God has made him both Lord and Christ. In this reading Peter is addressing the Jewish listeners in Jerusalem after the descent of the Holy Spirit. The opening sentence of his address contains an exact summary of the kernel of the early church’s belief concerning Jesus Christ: At his resurrection and ascension God had made the Jesus the Jews had crucified both Lord and Christ. A central article of Christ in the faith was that at his resurrection God had highly exalted Jesus and given him a name that is above every name, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). The term “Lord” here implies, among other truths, that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, and as Peter had reminded the Jews a little earlier in this sermon, that he has received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, which has been poured out at Pentecost. At his glorification God also made Jesus the Christ. Christ was already recognized as the Christ, the Messiah, during his public life. On behalf of the twelve Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ), and Jesus did not deny this. Also at his trial the high priest asked Jesus whether he was the Christ. Jesus did not deny that he was. While on earth Jesus was the messiah, the Christ, to fulfil the promises made to Israel as the Father would see fit. At His heavenly glorification Jesus would be made Christ in a fuller sense, to give effect to these promises through the Holy Spirit. When Peter tells his audience to repent, he has in mind not so much sorrow for individual sins as a change of mind, to change from following Moses as traditionally understood to belief in the Gospel and the following of Jesus. The change of allegiance will be made manifest in baptism into the name of Jesus (later it will be in the name of the Holy Trinity). Baptism will make them members of this new people of God, with Jesus as Lord and recepti9on of the gift of the Holy Spirit. They are called on to save themselves from their contemporary perverse or corrupt generation, perverse in the sense of unbelieving, not listening to the voice of God speaking through Jesus and his attested witnesses. Luke, the author of Acts, is keen in informing his readers of the progress in numbers of the new Christian movement. It begins on that first Pentecost Sunday with about three thousand converts. In this work Luke will trace the development of the Christian movement beyond Jerusalem into Gentile lands.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 22[23]). The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Second Reading (1 Peter 2:20-25). You have come back to the shepherd of your souls. It is informative to situate this passage first of all within its context in the letter itself, and then see how it continues to speak to us today. The letter was directed in the first instance to scattered Christian communities which were but a tiny minority in the larger pagan society, a society highly organized from the roman emperor downwards through cities, towns, families and other ways, a society of which slavery was an essential part. It was not that servants and slaves were invariably badly treated. But they occasionally were, and if they were they had no redress. The letter gives certain directives or suggestions how believers should comport themselves in such a society. They should conduct themselves honourably among the Gentiles, for the Lord’s sake to accept the authority of every human institution, as servants of God to live as free people, yet not to use their freedom as a pretext for evil, to honour everyone, to love the family of believers, to fear God and honour the emperor. Immediately after these suggestions, the author of the letter turns to the question of slavery, particularly to the case of slaves who have been punished unjustly. They are advised to bear the situation patiently, taking Christ crucified as their example. This, of course, will not lead to redress of their situation, but neither would the opposite, given the legal situation of slaves in those historical circumstances. But this passage stands out from its original setting and has a strong message for every generation, a message on the imitation of the patience of Christ crucified in times of trouble, when no human remedy seems available. The message of this text has very strongly influenced Irish spirituality. We often hear older people say, in their troubles; “Sure, Christ has suffered far more”.

Gospel (John 10:1-10). I am the gate of the sheepfold. This is “Good Shepherd Sunday”, so named from the Gospel reading of the Mass of the day. It is also, very appropriately, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Today’s reading is the opening section of a longer discourse of Jesus on himself as the true shepherd. The opening image seems to be that of a sheepfold, surrounded by a wall, where the sheep are kept overnight, to be led to pasture by the shepherd in the morning when the gatekeeper opens the door of the sheepfold for him. A thief or brigand bent on stealing or damaging the sheep will climb over the wall, not come through the gate. Sheep and shepherds were favourite images with regard to God’s people in both the Old and the New Testaments. There were good shepherds, and many bad ones (kings, princes) who scattered God’s flock. Because of this, through one prophet God promises that he himself would become the shepherd of his flock to lead them to true life. In this parable, or comparison, Jesus presents himself as the gate, the way and the life, the way and only way of access to the Father, and to his community in earth. He envisages a very personal relationship between himself and his flock, who recognise his mission from the Father and follow him. He is the life. He has come bring life and life to the full. He lays down his life to bring this life. He stresses the love between himself and the Father, and between both of them and his flock, his faithful followers. That love and personal relationship permit his sheep, his followers, to recognise his voice and follow him, and to recognise those who would be false shepherds, but in his view are merely brigands. In the first instance, the words of Jesus and of the Fourth evangelist (John) would have in mind Jewish teachers (Pharisees) leading people away from Jesus. But Jesus’ words, with their call for a living faith and love, are valid for all ages. They invite us today to pray for vocations for pastors of the flock, so badly needed in our own day.

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Lord, yesterday, today and for ever

In the parable at the beginning of the long discourse on himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus stresses some fundamental truths concerning his own person and mission, concerning his relationship with the Father and his “flock”, his faithful followers. The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. There is a special rapport, a deep understanding, between himself and his sheep. They recognize his voice and follow him, refusing to follow other would-be shepherds who would lead them astray.

            A noteworthy feature of all today’ three readings is the central place of Christ in faith, in the Church, in God’s saving plan. At his resurrection and glorification, after death on the cross, God made Jesus Lord and Christ. That was the message of Peter to the Jews on Pentecost Sunday, as he calls on them to repent and turn from a religion cantered on Moses and his law to belief in the Gospel. The communities to which Peter wrote his letter constituted a tiny minority in the great Roman Empire. While Peters tells them to respect and obey all human authority, he reminds them of their own Christian heritage which set them apart, a heritage based on the death of Christ on the cross. Christ will be their example to follow. In the parable of the Good Shepherd, Jesus himself makes it clear that he is the door to the sheepfold, the only door to true Christian community on earth, and the only door for union with the Father, and entry to heaven. He is the way, the truth and the life.

            Christ could refer this followers on earth as his little flock, and the Church at any time is tiny in comparison with the teeming millions of the human race, a humanity whose creator is God and whose saviour is Jesus. The question arises as to how all these are saved, having never known of Christ the door. The problem of Christ and world religions is a large one, and a stumbling block for a number of believers. The Church admits that she has no answer to the problem. She believes that Christ is the door, the way, and truth and the life, and also knows that God’s goodness is boundless, and has his own answer to this question.

            Since today is Good Shepherd Sunday let us pay attention to the need to hear his words to be united to his Father, so that we can hear his voice in a world of many other voices that would take people away from God. And since it is also the day of World Prayer for vocations let us pray that many in our own day will hear the call of the Good Shepherd to serve him as shepherds and pastors,