4th Sunday of Easter
Readings from the Acts of the Apostles frequently occur during the Easter season. They clearly show not just life in general in the first Christian community but more particularly they reveal the special place among the early Christians of the Apostles, and that Peter was the head of the Apostles.
So often, Peter speaks in behalf of the Apostles. Such is the case in this weekend’s first reading. Peter preaches on Pentecost, an important Jewish feast. His sermon goes to the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus is Lord, the Savior. He came among humans as Human but also as God’s own Son. He died. He rose. He reconciled humankind with Almighty God.
Humans have an option. They can accept Jesus as Lord. They can follow the Gospel. Or, they can reject Jesus.
The author of Acts, traditionally believed to have been also the author of Luke’s Gospel, dates the sermon. It was preached on Pentecost, a Jewish holiday. Jewish holidays celebrated God, in relation with humans, in particular with the Hebrew people. The holidays therefore celebrated the Covenant and God’s constant and uninterrupted mercy. In this case, the Jews recalled their special status as the people whom God protected and through whom God was revealed.
The First Epistle of Peter provides the second reading. Jesus died on the cross to bring, forever, and without qualification, God and humanity together. Individual persons affirm this reconciliation for themselves by freely accepting Jesus as Lord and by living as the Lord’s true disciples, as children of God.
St. John’s Gospel, the last reading, presents a theme that was among the Lord’s favorites, and that always has been beloved by Christians, namely the theme of the Good Shepherd.
Especially in this country, the imagery may not be as immediately telling as in a rural society. However, at the time of Jesus in the Holy Land, everyone would have been familiar with shepherds and sheep.
The nature of sheep is important. They are docile and quiet, often in peril from predators such as wolves. They need their shepherds. Also, young sheep, or lamb, were the preferred animals for sacrifice in the temple. The meat of lambs was ritually prepared for Passover. They were regarded as innocent.
Of course, they can wander. The shepherd does not tie them to himself. He leads them. They can turn away from him.
The Gospel’s message is clear. All humans are apt to wander, to be vulnerable, as sheep without a shepherd to guide them and protect them.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, leading us to pastures rich with nutrition, leading us away from the predators that prowl in search of us, the predators that by succeeding in tempting us to sin actually rob us of our very lives.
Weeks have passed since Easter, but the Church still rejoices in the Risen Lord. He lives! Giving us the words once preached by Peter, it calls us to repent, to turn away from sin, and to turn to the only source of life, the Lord Jesus.
Preparing us for this message, the Church frankly reminds us of who and what we are. We are as vulnerable as sheep. Predators lurk, waiting to assail us. The devil is the most vicious, and crafty, of these predators. Temptation draws us to death, if we sin.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He leads us to the nourishment we need for spiritual health. He goes before to the eternal fields of heaven.
The essence of this weekend’s message is clear and simple. We need the Lord. Otherwise, we shall die.
Here the Church’s final lesson appears. We can follow the Lord, or we can go our own way. If we turn from Jesus, however, we walk into peril.
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