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April 22 2018 Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection and Dialogue with Questions of the Day:

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 4:8-12). This is the only name by which we can be saved. It helps to recall that this reading is part of a longer section in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3:1-4:22) on the healing by Peter of a crippled beggar at the gate of the Temple. Peter and the apostle John looked at him intently. The beggar thought that they were to give him some alms, but Peter said: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stand up and walk.” The crippled man was healed. The apostles were putting into effect the power given them by Jesus, when he gave the Twelve “the power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases” (Luke 9:1). The miracle became known and the apostles took occasion of it to preach to the Jews the resurrection of Jesus, called by Peter “the Author of life”, who had been crucified. It was faith in this Author of life that had restored health to the sick man. The miracle led to conversion. Peter and John were brought before the religious leaders of the Jews, who asked them “By what power and by what name do you do this?”. Today’s reading gives Peter’s answer, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This reading is further example of the early Church’s preaching in Jerusalem and elsewhere, especially when Jews were being addressed. Confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit must always characterize the Church and its preaching, confidence that she continues the saving work of the risen Lord, “the Author of Life”.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 117[118]). The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone.

Second Reading (1 John 3:1-2). We shall see God as he really is. This reading contains themes repeatedly made in this First Letter of John, and also in the Gospel of John. The “world” in question in this literature is those who consciously reject the message of Jesus, and are enemies of it. The Christian community, as this letter and tradition puts it before us, is a body of believers confirmed in their Christian belief by the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. Their Christian instruction and this firm conviction assures them that they are not only called children of God but so they really are, a belief and a conviction that cannot be shared by outsiders, be they designated as “the world” or any other name. The gift of faith already gives a knowledge of God; through faith, even in this life, Jesus can be “seen” as risen Lord and Son of God. All look forward to a day beyond this mortal life when believers see God as he really is.

Gospel (John 10:1-18). The good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.The image of the sheepfold and the shepherd would be well known in Israel as in the Middle East in general. Kings, princes and others could be called shepherds. In the well-known psalm (Psalm 22/23) God himself is addressed in Hebrew prayer as shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd”. The disaster that was exile in Babylon led to the regard of Israel’s “shepherds” as careless, and God promised through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:11-31) that he himself would become shepherd to his people, but also promising: “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezek 34:23). A lengthy section in John’s Gospel (John 9:39-10:21) has Jesus speak on himself as this shepherd, using a variety of images: himself as gate, himself as door, others (thieves, bandits) entering over the wall. Jesus’ discourse also has a reference to other sheep not of the flock of which Jesus speaks, sheep which he wants to listen to his voice, and that thus there be one flock and one shepherd. The evangelist tells us that after Jesus’ discourse there was fresh division among the listeners, some saying: “He is raving. Why do you listen to him” (John 10:19). As John wrote this Gospel he may also have been thinking of the divisions in his own community on central issues of faith. We may also here note that Jesus, this good shepherd, after his resurrection solemnly appointed Peter to feed his lambs and feed his sheep (John 21:15-17). Turning now to today’s reading we cannot fail to note Jesus’ expression of intense love for his flock, for those who believe in him already and others not yet of his flock. His words were first intended as an expression of genuine leadership in God’s name: not the Pharisees or other religious leaders, but himself alone. This gives a noble expression of Jesus as true shepherd. Reflecting on the religious divisions in the past and in the present the reading calls for prayer on our part that the vision become a reality: one fold under the one shepherd Jesus Christ.

B.The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

Reflection & Dialogue: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cares for his flock. Prayer for vocations

  1. In the present liturgy this Sunday is devoted to “World Day of Prayer for Vocations”. Not much earlier it was known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. The Gospel readings for all three Sundays of the three-year cycle, and the prayers for the Mass, are all about this same theme, Jesus as Good Shepherd. The Gospel readings for all three Sundays are from Jesus’ presentation of himself as the Good Shepherd in chapter 10 of John’s Gospel. The two themes, Jesus as Good Shepherd and prayer for vocations, can be very fruitfully combined. The need of prayer for vocations, and for what particular vocations, can best be understood in the context of reflection on Jesus as shepherd of his faithful flock.
  2. A central truth in Jesus as shepherd of his flock is that this flock and the interrelation between Jesus and believers are constituted by faith in Jesus. Without this faith there can be no interrelationship between Jesus and his flock. It is only the sheep that belong to him that listen to his voice. In fact, in his debate on the issue with his questioners, Jesus told them that they do not believe, because they do not belong to his sheep (John 10:26). He had said something similar when referring to himself as the true bread of life: “No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:65).
  3. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, stresses the truth that, given faith, no amount of persecution, trials, questioning, can destroy fidelity to him. Both he and his Father will defend his flock, that is, believers in him, against all attacks from outside and from within. The problems concerning faith in Jesus and fidelity to him vary from age to age. In our own day they are manifold, from prevailing doubt in the every existence of God to scandals and weakness in the Church.
  4. This all leads to the other theme of the day -- prayer for vocations. Jesus himself has called for this –- to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest. Prayer itself is an act of faith in the nature of the Church, Christ’s flock. We should pray for vocations for all the needs of the Church, for vocations to the priesthood, religious life, for lay people versed in the sciences, literature, the arts and in the many callings in which response can be made to the questions and problems endangering faith among the flock of the Good Shepherd.