Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles again is the source of an Easter season’s weekend’s first reading. Peter, once more the spokesman for the Apostles, is filled with the Holy Spirit. He is not speaking on his own.
In this story, Peter restores a person unable to walk to wholeness, declaring that this miraculous event came not as the result of his own power, or of any earthly power, but rather through the power of Jesus.
Continuing, Peter makes it clear that Jesus, the source of Peter’s power, is indeed the Jesus who was crucified on Calvary, the Son of God and Savior. Jesus is the gateway to eternal life itself, the single source of God’s favor and everlasting life.
The First Epistle of John provides the second reading. These three epistles, given the name of John, the Apostle, are alike, and splendid, in their superb use of language.
This reading declares that true believers are “children of God.” It is a powerful concept, meaning that through Jesus, and in Jesus, believers become much more than merely creatures of God. They truly are God’s children.
The Scriptures have many titles and names for God. He is Master, Creator, the King and the Almighty. In this reading, God is the Father. The title conveys all that the relationship between a child and an earthly father suggests.
For the final reading is a passage from St. John’s Gospel in which Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd. This title, occurring elsewhere in the New Testament, with many echoes of the Old Testament, offers lessons in itself.
In the Greek, the language of the Gospel, “good” means “ideal.” Jesus is the perfect shepherd. Thus, Jesus not only leads the sheep but risks everything, even life itself, for the sheep. The image has overtones of the Lord’s sacrificial death on Calvary.
Another lesson is that we are sheep. Sheep are not aggressive. They are not predators. They are shy, easily the prey of vicious enemies that capitalize on the sheep’s innocence and vulnerability. Humans resemble sheep, as humans unsuspectingly so often are exposed to the dangers of sin and to the meanness of sinful persons. The Lord protects us.
“Sheep not of this fold” refers to enemies, not just strangers, who lie in waiting for the weak.
In the agrarian world of that day’s Israel, Jesus used images familiar to everyone, such as shepherds and sheep. He wanted all to understand and to know God, God’s mercy, God’s love, and the potential of all to live in this love.
For weeks the Church has celebrated the Resurrection, and it still celebrates the Lord’s risen life this weekend.
In these readings, the Church reminds us that the Resurrection was not just a stupendous event that came and went. Instead, it is with us now. How? Peter brought people to God. He brought God’s life-giving power to them. His successors continue in this wondrous exchange.
In our inevitable limitations, we humans everlastingly ignore our own vulnerability and inflate our strengths. We are at the mercy of death-dealing and devious forces, some with human faces. Some come from within us. We must admit these realities.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd, ready to sacrifice earthly life itself to protect us from death.
We need the Lord. Without the Lord, we risk eternal death, helpless before our enemies. He alone guides us to peace and to life.
The Lord, however, does not invade our hearts. We are free to choose for ourselves, in a dramatic personal selection of life in Christ or eternal death.
We must convert and commit. Essential to eternal life is a total and absolute commitment to God, through Jesus.
It is this simple, this basic.
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