May 2, 2017 // Columns
Those who turn from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, walk into peril
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 reveal the special place of the apostles among the early Christians, as well as the fact that Peter was the head of the apostles.
Inevitably, Peter speaks in 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. 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 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 and his relationship 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 has always been beloved by Christians; namely, the theme of the Good Shepherd.
Today in this country, the imagery may not be as immediately telling as it was in a rural society. Sheepherding is not a common 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 lambs, were the preferred animals for sacrifice in the temple because lambs were gentle and innocent. The meat of lambs was ritually prepared for Passover.
But, 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, to be in danger, like sheep without a shepherd to guide and protect them.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, leading us to pastures rich with nutrition and 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 the words once preached by Peter, the Gospel 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 death, since sin is death.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He leads us to the nourishment we need for spiritual health. He guides us 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.
We can follow the Lord, or we can go our own way just as sheep may wander; but if we turn from Jesus, we walk into peril.
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