4th Sunday of Easter – Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Jesus The Shepherd, We The Sheep Of His Flock”.
Today’s first reading tells us that in order to follow Christ, it is necessary to be ready to endure hardships and persecutions. This is what Paul and Barnabus are teaching us with the examples of their lives.
The second reading describes the place of rest where Jesus, Shepherd and Sacrificial Lamb, leads his flock to heaven. We shall find there all the replies to the enigmas of our earthly existence.
The shepherd is the one who walks at the head of his flock to show the safe ‘way’ leading to pastures and to the springs of fresh water. Jesus is the only ‘True Shepherd’. His ‘Way’, and the way he teaches all, is the laying down of one’s life in love. This is the theme on which we are called to reflect on every Sunday during Paschal time. His sheep are those who have the courage to follow in his footsteps. This is the message of the Gospel.
Let us on this Vocation Sunday spread the ‘Good News’ to all those who are considering vocations, that God, does not call the qualified, but qualifies those he calls.
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.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
Acts 13:14, 43-52.
In the first reading, we hear of Paul and Barnabus speaking to Jewish officials. So many Jews were becoming Christians that the officials were becoming jealous. So they blasphemed and “contradicted what was spoken by Paul.” But Paul and Barnabus were undaunted. They replied, “It was necessary that the ‘Word of God’ should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” Now the “Good news” of salvation in Jesus would be presented to the Gentiles. As it turned out, the Gentiles “were glad and praised the Lord”.
The issue being addressed here is the central issue of the early Church: whether you had to become a Jew in order to benefit from the salvation offered by Jesus? The practice of Paul and all his colleagues in their apostolic journeys was to approach the Jews first, as having first claim on what God had provided through Jesus. Only after their refusal did the apostles turn to the Gentiles.
The Jewish leaders and the jealous officials continued to work against the two missionaries and succeeded in having them driven out of the city. So they ‘shook the dust from their feet’ as Jesus had commanded (Lk. 9:5) and went to the next town rejoicing. The disciples “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Speaking out boldly for Christ paid off despite the reaction of Jewish officials in Antioch.
The reluctance of the Jews of Pisidia to accept the new way of life proposed by Paul and Barnabus is the same that we all experience, when confronted with difficult changes in our lives which God requests us to make. Generally we prefer to be left in peace, we feel safe in the haven of our habits and in the security of our traditions.
If we listen to his Word, we see how many surprises he has in store for us; how he seeks to deepen our love and knowledge we have for him, demanding an ever-growing commitment to renewal. The Word of God is a continuous demand for conversion and repentance.
How do we respond to these calls? Are we not tempted to behave like the Jews of Antioch of Pisidia? Don’t we curse, at times, against those who try to formulate faith using a new language? Don’t we try to get rid of (maybe by rash judgments, gossip or even calumny) those who in the name of God, disturb us our comfort zones and rattle our consciences?
The passage ends with a curious remark: “the converts were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” (52). Strange: the wicked appeared to have carried the day, the two apostles had been forced to leave and yet the Christians of Antioch of Pisidia, instead were shedding tears of sorrow, are filled with joy!
This is a sign that ‘joy can go together with tears’, as well as with unfulfilled hopes and sorrow for suffering injustice. The Gentiles were ‘filled with joy’ when they heard what Paul and Barnabus had to say. The Preachers themselves were ‘filled with joy’ even though they were being hounded out of town. Sometimes believers give the incorrect impression that their faith is a trial and a burden. Some make it a complex set of rules and regulations, a long list of things you have to do and believe in.
That may be part of faith, but it is certainly not the main part. Christian Faith is the conviction that God loves us in spite of our unworthiness. God wants to free us from our sins and wants to bring us to an eternity of happiness. The appropriate response to that is gratitude and joy.
Enemies of the truth will never be able to experience this kind of joy; they fight the Gospel, are proud like winners, but are in fact the losers. Not even the just will be able to experience such a joy, if their hearts cannot get rid of all kind of resentment against their persecutors.
Psalm 100:1-3, 5.
The Psalm concludes a series that celebrates the ‘Kingship of God’. He is a king who has won a people for himself (Ex. 19:6), which calls itself God’s own flock. As a Shepherd, God exercises the qualities he revealed at Sinai (Ex. 34:6).
The second reading from the Book of the Apocalypse, gives us a glimpse of the ultimate triumph awaiting those who listen to God’s Word and proclaim it.
“After this I, John, looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb, all robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” John was told that all these people “will hunger no more, and thirst no more.” Moreover, the Lamb, “will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
God did not abandon his own in their trials and troubles. The Blood of Christ won them salvation. They are safe from physical danger and psychological upset. It is as if they live in God’s own tent and enjoy the protection of Christ the Good Shepherd.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. It is a day to pray for different vocations to serve God’s people.
In different years we read different parts of Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel. In his Gospel, many important events and teachings take place during big feast days. The first part of the parable of the ‘Good Shepherd’ is told during the feast of the Tents (Jn. 7:1; 10:1-18). In it Jesus applies the image of the shepherd to himself. Now at another feast, that of the Dedication of the Temple (Jn. 10:22-39), Jesus picks up the same image, ‘Good Shepherd’, once more to show the intimate relationship between himself and his disciples.
It also resembles his own intimate relationship with the Father who has sent him. The true disciple of Jesus shows his intimacy with Jesus in two ways: listening and following as sheep. Listening must be a fundamental attitude of the disciple. As Jesus is always attentive to what the Father wants, so the disciple opens his ears to what Jesus says.
When Jesus speaks of himself as the ‘Shepherd’ he is clearly allying himself with vagabonds of society. Elsewhere he says: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the ‘Son of Man’ has nowhere to lay his head.” He is the wandering prophet who has been rejected by his own community at Nazareth. He keeps moving, always having another area in mind. When his teachings are rejected, he shakes the dust from his feet. He never lingers on even when the people’s hospitality is generous. He will not be tied down – except when he is taken to Calvary. As the ‘Shepherd’ he is always going ahead of his flock seeking out new pastures. He takes on the risks and the dangers willingly of his calling.
At times, Jesus speaks to us directly in our hearts, but the common way to listen to his voice is in the ‘Scriptures and in the Teachings’ of the Church. Today, there is a great hunger for God’s Word, that some are ready to go just anywhere to be taught something from the Bible.
This is a great challenge to all Christians and especially to Church leaders. A true shepherd of God’s people must have a great love and knowledge of the Scriptures to be able to feed God’s people with solid food (truth). Listening to the voice of Jesus leads unavoidably to follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. The Shepherd seeks the good of his sheep and leads them to green pastures. He is also ready to give up his life out of love for them.
Following Jesus all the way means in the end to “pick up the Cross and follow him”. The ‘Way’ of the Master leads us onto a narrow and steep road, but it is a road that leads to life (cf. Mt. 7:14).
The passage of today ends with Jesus who says: “The Father and I are one”. This points out to us the way we must follow to arrive at unity with God; we must become “One” with Christ. Let us today, together, become “One”, with the Good Shepherd and follow his “Way”.
Jesus the ‘Good Shepherd’ promises us eternal life. Death will not be the end, but the beginning of an existence beyond our wildest dreams. Nothing can ever steal us away from him.
We are subject to suffering, sorrow and death, but even in our darkest hour we have his pledge that we will never be alone. We will always be a part of his flock.
‘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 4th Sunday of Easter Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … The Word of God was more than likely spoken to us first by our parents and then by our communities. Reflect on how you responded to his Word when you first really understood God’s message and call for conversion and the ‘Good News’ of salvation? How did you first react, were you indifferent, apprehensive or were you filled with joy?
Mon. … Reflect on the changes in your life, which God has requested you to make. Did you immediately set about to make such changes? Were you tempted to stall and behave like the Jews of Antioch of Pisidia by distancing ourselves from those who in the name of God brought us the message? Did you eventually make such changes or did we cause God’s persistent messengers to eventually give up and wipe the dust off their feet? It is not too late to make those changes!
Tues. … How do we see our faith? Do we sometimes get the impression that it is a trial and a burden? Do we feel restricted by a long list of seemingly complex set of rules and regulations to which we seem unable to follow? Real Christian faith is the total conviction that God loves us in spite of our stumbling and unworthiness. God’s Sacrament of Reconciliation of love and forgiveness picks us up when we fall down and restores us to his saving grace.
Wed. … The ‘great multitude’ robed in white with palm branches in their hands, standing before the Lamb will hunger and thirst no more. The ‘Blood of Christ’ has won them salvation. This is the ultimate triumph awaiting those to listen to God’s word and proclaim it. Let us all strive to become part of the ‘great multitude’. God wants to bring us all to an eternity of happiness.
Thur. … Have we made the commitment to become true disciples of Jesus? We need to show our love and intimacy to the ‘Good Shepherd’ in two ways: by listening to his Word proclaimed by his Church and his Gospel and to follow him in his ‘Way’. We need to become one of his flock by following him and entering into his ‘fold’ (his Church). At times, Jesus speaks to us directly in our hearts. How can we recognize the voice of the ‘Good Shepherd’ if we do not know him personally?
Frid. … To follow in the ‘Way’ of the ‘Good Shepherd’ means for us to have the courage to ‘pick up our cross’ and to follow him. The ‘Way’ leads us onto a narrow and steep road. It is a road that we will never walk alone, as the ‘Good Shepherd’ is with us often lifting us up when we fall down, and carrying us when we are too weary. He finds us when we stray and become lost. He will never desert us on the ‘Way’ to new life.
Sat. … Jesus ends the passage by saying: “The Father and I are ‘One’ ”. To arrive at unity with God, we must become ‘One’ with Christ, by being part of his flock. When we are at ‘One’ with Christ we are ‘One’ with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Nothing can ever steal us away from the ‘Good Shepherd’.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, we pray that You help us to make the necessary changes in our lives that separate us from You and our neighbour. May we always receive Your messengers as welcome guests in our lives and listen carefully to the wisdom that they impart to us. Grant us the courage to become true disciples of Jesus and to follow the ‘Good Shepherd’ as he leads us up the steep and narrow road to new life. May he find us when we lose the ‘Way’ and give us strength when we become too weary to carry our crosses.
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.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.