Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles supplies the first reading. It gives a glimpse into the modus vivendi of St. Paul as he moved across Asia Minor in his proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.
Paul, evidently, first went to synagogues. It is not surprising. After all, he was of Jewish descent and background, and he was well-educated in the Jewish culture and religion of the time. He would have been comfortable among Jews, but also more likely to be heard when he spoke to them.
Even so, he obviously was not always met by universal acceptance, although it would not be accurate to say that he attracted no converts from among the Jews whom he met. He drew many of them into the ranks of Christians, and he attracted Gentiles as well.
These details are only secondary to the story. The point of this reading is that the word of God, pronounced by Jesus, continued to be spoken and received long after the Ascension. It was proclaimed by an Apostle, whom Jesus personally had called, and by Barnabas, a disciple of this Apostle.
So, salvation continued through the Apostles. Jesus still spoke.
The Book of Revelation furnishes the next reading. It is very symbolic in its language, but its meaning is clear. Among those saved by Jesus are people from every nation. Their number is great. They are baptized, wearing the white robes of baptism. Their sins have been washed away from Lord, precisely by the sacrificial blood shed by the Lord on Calvary. They carry the palm branches of martyrs, as they have kept their faith despite persecution.
The Good Shepherd leads them. He rescues them from the heat of the day and the dryness of earthly life.
St. John’s Gospel provides the last reading. This Gospel reading again presents Jesus as the Good Shepherd. For an audience overwhelmingly agrarian, as was the audience to which Jesus preached, imagery built on sheepherding, sheep and shepherds was very familiar and instantly understood.
This reading states that the sheep know the shepherd. In turn, the shepherd knows them. It implies a relationship of closeness, total devotion and of trust. The readings say that this shepherd gives eternal life. Following the shepherd, the sheep will never perish.
No one can snatch them away from the shepherd. The shepherd will protect them from all predators, because the sheep belong to Him. It is the will of the Father.
In a great testament of self-identity, Jesus proclaims oneness with the Father.
This weekend, the Church calls us to celebrate the Resurrection once again. It begins the fourth week of proclaiming the excited news that it first pronounced at Easter. He lives.
With the readings this weekend, and with those of the preceding weeks of Easter, the Church essentially makes two points.
The first point is that Jesus lives, literally, and the sublime act of Resurrection gives us evidence that Jesus is God, the Son of God, the eternal Father. As risen, Jesus is totally unique among humans. As God, Jesus is the bearer of life, truth, peace and joy. There is no substitute for the Lord.
The second point, made this weekend and in past weeks, is that the word of Jesus, and the salvation given by Jesus, continue. They did not cease with the Ascension. Jesus lived in the preaching and the good works of the Apostles and lives in their followers and successors.
As an example, through Paul, and then through Barnabas, Jesus touched people needing hope and salvation, needing to know God.
By emphasizing these points, the Church presents us with its basic belief, Jesus is God. In Jesus are truth and life. The Church reassures us that Jesus is with us still.
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