April 29, 2023 // Perspective
The Lord is Truly Our Shepherd
Fourth 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 quite expressly they reveal the special place among the early Christians of the Apostles, and that Peter was the head of the Apostles.
Always, Peter, and only Peter, speaks on behalf of all the Apostles. Such is the case in this weekend’s first reading. Peter preaches. His sermon goes to the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus is Lord, the Savior. Christ 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 and follow the Gospel or they can reject Jesus.
The author of Acts, traditionally believed also to have been 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 especially with the Hebrew people. At Pentecost, Jews celebrated their relationship with God. God initiated this relationship. It brought to the Jews God’s constant and uninterrupted mercy, and they knew it. So, the Jews rejoiced in their special relationship with God.
The First Epistle of Peter provides the second reading. Jesus died on the cross to link humanity, forever, and without qualification, with God. Individual persons affirm this reconciliation for themselves by freely accepting Jesus as Lord and by living as the Lord’s true disciples.
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.
Today in this country, this imagery may not be so revealing. Many Americans live in urban, not rural, settings. Sheepherding is not that often a livelihood in America, but 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, vulnerable to predators such as wolves. They need their shepherds. Also, young sheep, or lamb, were the preferred animals for sacrifice in the temple because lambs were gentle and innocent. The meat of lambs was ritually prepared for the Passover meal.
Sheep may wander. The shepherd does not tie them to himself. He leads them, but they can turn away from him.
The Gospel’s message is clear. All humans are apt to stray into danger, as sheep stray when they drift away from the shepherd.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, leading us to pastures rich with nutrition, protecting us from the predators that prowl in search of us, predators that literally kill us by succeeding in tempting us to sin.
Several weeks have passed since Easter, but the Church still rejoices in the Risen Lord. He lives! Giving us 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 on every side, waiting to assail us. The devil is the most vicious, and crafty, of these predators. The devil draws us to sin. Sin brings death.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He leads us to the nourishment that we need for spiritual health. He guides us to the eternal pasture of heaven.
The essence of this weekend’s message is clear and simple. We need the Lord. Otherwise, we shall die. We have a choice. Follow the Lord or go out our own way, just as sheep may wander, but if we turn from Jesus, we flirt with disaster.
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