4th Sunday of Easter – Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“The Good Shepherd is One who Lays Down His Life.”
Every year the Liturgy of the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents the theme of the “Good Shepherd” and draws our attention to its various aspects and teachings.
The first reading is linked to this theme: the central part describes what happened to Christ, the “True Shepherd.”
The second reading tells us of the gift of life that God has bestowed on all people. Christians should not fear to give up their lives because they know that death cannot destroy the life that God has put in them; giving up one’s life is necessary so that the fullness of life may be revealed.
The Gospel reading considers the courage of the ‘good shepherd’ who lays down his life for his sheep and sets the standard for all shepherds.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter first addresses the question of the cure. “If the issue is how this cripple was cured,” he says, “it was in the name of Jesus, through his power. You crucified him and the Father raised him from the dead.” Note that there is no attempt to diminish the guilt of his hearers on the grounds of their ignorance, as was the case in Peter’s prior discourse. He was now dealing with the leaders, not the ordinary people!
Peter addresses a much more basic issue than the healing of the lame beggar. He speaks of the meaning of this Jesus. He first cites Scripture to describe what the leaders had done and what the outcome of their doing was. The ‘stone that the builders had rejected’ had become the cornerstone. This is a verse from Psalm 118 and describes the good fortune of the nation of Israel, which other nations had looked down upon. But Peter here invokes it as a prophecy about Jesus.
Then comes the sweeping proclamation: “There is no salvation through anyone else.” If you are not saved by Jesus, you are not saved at all. Peter says that Jesus is not offering physical salvation. The healing of the cripple is only a sign of the total salvation that Jesus has in store for all people who want it.
Like our Master, we have to take an interest in the needs, both spiritual and physical, of our brothers and sisters. We must take an interest in our fellows and undertake their liberation from the slavery of sin. We must also do all we can to free them from all kinds of oppression caused by unjust structures or unacceptable traditions. We should work to eliminate religious ignorance and any other form of ignorance.
Only when people are able to see this total salvation, will they believe that Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead. Salvation is an appropriate subject to think about during the Easter season, because Jesus’ Resurrection identifies him as the Saviour sent to us by God.
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29.
This Psalm of thanksgiving was what they had sung as they had accompanied Jesus on his donkey-ride to the Temple. The singer turns to God and says, ‘I shall thank you, for you have answered me – you have become my salvation”. There is a profound sense here of relating to God, given renewed emphasis by the line that Peter quoted in the first reading:
‘ the stone the builders rejected has become the corner stone’.
Then comes a cry that Christians, along with those who accompanied Jesus down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, have echoed: ‘blessed is the one who comes in YHWH’s name’. There is total trust here in God, and in whom God sends.
1 John 3:1-2.
The life of God that the Christian receives in Baptism is a spiritual and mysterious reality, unverifiable by the senses. The presence of this gift cannot go unnoticed because it produces concrete signs that all can see. These are incompatible with the way of thinking of people living in darkness.
The second part of the reading reminds us of a very consoling truth: The Father does not wait for the day of our death to give us this life; he gives it to us now.
This new reality that is in us will be made manifest only when the veil of this physical life of ours is removed. When we see God as he really is, when we are like him, then we shall realize fully what we already were. John assures us that we are indeed children of God, but that here on earth we have only a small inkling of who God is and what we will be in the next life, where we will see God ‘face to face’ (Cor.13:12).
Each year on ‘Vocations Sunday’ the Gospel is taken from John’s chapter on the ‘Good Shepherd’. The image of ‘sheep and shepherd’ is taken up by Jesus to express his relationship with his people. The crowds that come to him hungry for his teaching are compared to a flock without a shepherd. He feeds them through his teaching. He not only feeds the healthy sheep to keep them strong, he cares especially for the sick and the lost among them and brings them back to the fold.
The first task for a Christian leader is, like that of a ‘shepherd’, to feed the flock with the word of God. If they do not provide good spiritual food, Christians go astray.
The prophet Ezekiel had already spoken of a time when God would himself become the ‘Shepherd’ of his flock. Jesus is the ‘Shepherd’ that God promised his people. The parable insists especially on the loving, intimate relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. They know him, listen to his voice and follow him.
The final proof of the love of the ‘Shepherd’ for his sheep is his readiness to give up his life for them. By his ‘Crucifixion and Resurrection’, Jesus did in fact lay down his life and in doing so, was victorious and became the model for shepherds for all times.
We have our bishops as our ‘shepherds’, assisted by our priests and deacons. All of us are called to assist our shepherds in different ways in the many forms of Christian ministries with varying degrees of responsibilities. Teaching the word of God, preparing people for the sacraments, visiting the sick, supporting the pro-life movement and serving the poor and marginalized are some of the many ministries available to lay people.
In our secular society we all need to commit ourselves to working for peace and justice. In developing a loving relationship with God, we need to speak to our Father regularly through prayer and listen to his guidance. God, through our loving relationship with him, will delegate the function of a ministry to us, a task to help and assist others to reach salvation. How do we exercise this ministry that had been entrusted to us? We can accept our responsibility as a real call from God to give our lives for others and to live it out in the spirit of gratuitous love for others. All Christians must be good ‘shepherds’. Whoever wants to be a disciple of Christ must portray the generosity and virtues of his Master. If a Christian is satisfied with just obeying the Law, or doing just the minimum, he or she has not understood what true love is.
We need to reflect on the many ways in which lives are placed at the service of others: parents’ care of children; acts of kindness to co-workers; and compassion for those who are “like sheep without a shepherd”. If we love our brothers and sisters or serve our communities in the hope of getting some advantage in the form of gratitude, merits or even a reward in heaven, we are not following Christ’s ‘Way’. The expression “to lay down one’s life” is found five times in the text. This clearly indicates the emphasis the evangelist is placing on the issue of ‘serving and self-sacrifice’.
The image of the shepherd and the flock is a familiar one in the Old Testament. The Scriptures use this image to portray the leaders and the people. They also express the care God has for his own.
Priestly service is about relationships with the Lord in prayer and with his people in humble service. Knowing the Lord comes especially through spending time every day listening to his word and sharing it with others. Knowing his people comes through listening, visiting, being available and being willing to recognise different talent in collaborative ministry.
Let us this week say a prayer for our ‘ordained’ leaders and all our ‘religious’ brothers and sisters who serve our community so unselfishly. May their examples of gratuitous love also inspire us to serve others in the ‘Spirit’ of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the glory of the Father and his ‘Kingdom’ on earth.
To remain faithful to our ‘calling’, we need to look constantly at the example of Jesus. Jesus the ‘Good Shepherd’ is constantly with us transforming us into true daughters and sons of God. To follow in the way of Jesus demands we require on-going conversion and purification of our motives and values.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … It was in the name of Jesus that Peter healed the cripple. Peter knew that this miracle was but one example of Jesus’ power that the Risen Lord is constantly working miracles in the hearts of all of us. Do we open up our hearts to receive this healing grace?
Mon. … The healing of the cripple is only a sign of the total salvation that Jesus has in store for his people. Like our Master we have to take an interest in the needs, both spiritual and physical of our brothers and sisters in our communities. We must allow our Lord to pass on his grace to others through our cooperation.
Tues. … As Christians we must allow our Church to become the ‘rock foundation’ upon which we build our moral values to support our fragile lives. We should work to eliminate religious ignorance and any other form of ignorance. Only when people are able to see this total salvation, will they be led to believe that Jesus Christ has truly ‘Risen’ from the dead.
Wed. … Through the guidance of the ‘mystical body of Christ’ and through the works of love for our brothers and sisters in our communities we further develop Christ’s kingdom here on earth so that all may see that salvation is in fact a reality. The Father does not want to wait for the day of our death to give us this life; he gives it to us now. All we have to do is accept his gift by making the right choices. John assures us that we are indeed children of God, but that here on earth we have only a small inkling of who God is and what we will be in the next life, where we will see God ‘face to face’ (Cor.13:12).
Thurs. … Through Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection the ‘Good Shepherd’ became the model for shepherds of all time. Our bishops, priests and our religious have given up secular life as an act of love for the communities to which they serve. Being called by the ‘Risen Christ’ this act of sacrifice of their lives for others is a ‘concrete sign’ that Jesus is alive and wants to guide and feed his sheep.
Frid. … All of us too are called by our baptism to assist our ‘shepherds’ in many different but meaningful ways. Our communities need us. If we are satisfied with obeying only just the ‘Law’ and the ‘Precepts of the Church’ are we not just doing the minimum? Do we not need to put our Christian love into practice? Our Church can provide us with many ways to serve Christ and his community. Again we need to make that choice.
Sat. … The expression “to lay down one’s life” is found five times in the Gospel reading. This clearly states the emphasis the evangelist is placing on the issue of self-sacrifice and serving. When we serve, we become part of God’s salvation plan. When we guide others on their journey to ‘Faith’ it becomes part of our journey too.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, during this time of ‘spiritual recession’ in the world, we pray that the ‘Good Shepherd’ will seek out all those who are lost and cannot find the ‘Way’ and those who still hunger for the truth and bring them back to Your fold. We pray Lord, that we may always recognise his voice and be led safely on the narrow and difficult path that he has shown us.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.