4th 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.
Quite likely, he would have been more comfortable, but also more likely to be heard, in such surroundings as synagogues.
It also is clear that he 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. He also attracted Gentiles.
However, 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.
Moreover, it was proclaimed by an Apostle, and by Barnabas, a disciple of an Apostle.
Salvation went on. Through the Apostles, Jesus still spoke.
The Book of Revelation furnishes the next reading. It is very symbolic in its terms, 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. They carry the palm branches of martyrs. They have kept their faith despite persecution. Their sins have been washed away from Lord, precisely by the sacrificial blood shed by the Lord on Calvary.
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, read immediately after the passage from Acts, also presents Jesus as the Good Shepherd. For an audience overwhelmingly agrarian, as was the audience to which Jesus preached, imagery built on sheep herding and shepherds was very familiar and well understood.
This reading states that the sheep know the shepherd. In turn, the shepherd knows them. It implies a relationship of closeness and of trust. Moving beyond the symbolism, the readings say that this shepherd gives eternal life. Possessing this life, the sheep will never perish.
Furthermore, no one can snatch them away from the shepherd. The reason is that they belong to the shepherd because of the will of the Father.
Then, 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 that in the sublime act of Resurrection is 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 lives in the preaching and the good works of the Apostles, and of their followers and successors.
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 is truth and life. It also reassures us. Jesus is with us still.
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