4th Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles again furnishes the first biblical reading. As was the case last weekend, it is a passage recalling a time when Peter spoke in behalf of all the Apostles.
This event occurred on Pentecost, an important Jewish feast. As last week, the sermon is in the literary style of kerygmatic. It goes to the essence of the Christian message. Jesus is Lord. He is the Redeemer. In Jesus, and only in Jesus, is salvation. Jesus bears God’s mercy and eternal life.
However, this mercy and eternal life are not thrust upon us. We must ourselves accept Jesus. We must turn to God. We must repent and reform.
The reference to Pentecost is not just simply to provide a date. Rather, its mention reminds us that the Apostles stood in the current of God’s long process of salvation and protection.
It further links the salvation offered by Christ, and salvation offered by the Apostles in the Lord’s name, in the context of God’s constant loving care.
First Peter once again supplies the second reading. Scholars dispute that the Apostle Peter, Simon Peter the Galilean fisherman, literally authored this epistle. Such questions in no sense demean or discount the assertion that this epistle is the authentic and revealed Word of God.
The tests of the authenticity of Scriptures is that they were believed to be divinely inspired by the early Christians, and most importantly that they were accepted as such, and formally and officially identified, by the Church.
Whatever its exact origins, First Peter fully meets these tests.
Its message is twofold. First, Jesus is the Savior. His blood, spilt on Calvary, reconciles for all time God with created humanity. Secondly, we must link ourselves with Jesus, affirming by our faith and by our total rejection of sin our love for God and faith in the Lord.
St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. It dwells on a theme obviously preferred by Jesus and emphasized in the Gospel of John. This theme is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Sheep raising and herding were popular livelihoods in Palestine at the time of Jesus. The images of shepherds and sheep would have been instantly understood. Jesus and the Evangelists employed these images to make clear and direct the message of salvation. The very technique in itself reveals the holy yearning of God to be united with us.
This reading insists that Jesus is the only route to heaven. Without the Lord, we reach for heaven in vain.
Also important in this reading is its reference to a thief who slyly, and under the cover of darkness, steals the unsuspecting and helpless sheep away, taking them away to death and destruction.
We need Jesus. Sheep are tame, unassuming, non-predatory animals. They are vulnerable. So are humans. Indeed, thieves lay in wait for us. However, the Lord, the victor over death itself, is our Good Shepherd.
Still, these several weeks after Easter, the Church proclaims its joy and faith in the Risen Lord. Still, it speaks the message long ago spoken by Peter on Pentecost. Jesus is Lord! He lives! Repent, renounce sin and turn to God!
These readings introduce a new element. The devil, or at best forces unfriendly to Jesus, await us. We are unable to withstand these forces without God’s help. We are sheep. We are limited. We are weak. Temptation and the human condition weaken us.
Nevertheless, if we are in Jesus, and with Jesus, we are strong. No power can overwhelm us, because no power can overwhelm the Lord, the victor over death itself.
The Church bids us to face the facts about ourselves — and about the power of the Lord.
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