21 April 2013. 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 13:14, 43-52. Everywhere they go, Paul and Barnabas preach the Gospel first to the Jews, but afterwards to godfearing pagans, who receive it with gratitude and joy.
Rev. 7:9,14-17. In praise of the early martyrs, who came triumphantly through times of great tribulation and persecution. They owed their victory to the care of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Jn 10:27-30. Christ is the true Shepherd, knowing us personally; and no one will snatch from his care the sheep that the Father has given him.
Theme: We celebrate Christ our Good Shepherd. Hearing his voice in the proclamation of the gospel, we follow him by living the gospel.
First Reading: Acts 13:14, 43-52
They went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down…. When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “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. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Geniles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Second Reading: Book of Revelation 7:9, 14-17
After this I 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 throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Gospel: John 10:27-30
And Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
An Urgent Job to be done
During this period following on the Easter celebrations, there is one thing that the liturgy readings try to impress upon us, and that is the zeal and urgency the Apostles showed in preaching the good news about Christ. They disregarded every attempt on the part of the Jews to put a stop to them. Death threats did not deter them, and whether people accepted their message or not, they appeared to be driven on by an inner Godgiven sense of mission to hand on to everyone their faith in Jesus. This weekend every year is set aside as a time of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and we must bear in mind that the idea of vocations and that of handing on the faith are closely linked. We might from time to time ponder over the question: “Why did God create us?” The answer has to be that God is love, that God is goodness, and love and goodness are only meaningful if they are communicated to others, if there is someone else to be loved and to experience that goodness.
The Holy Spirit poured out his graces and gifts in abundance on the members of the early Church, and they in turn felt compelled to share them with others. In season and out of season, as St Paul puts it, the Apostles and those close to them preached the marvellous news about the salvation won for the world by Christ. And with the departure through death or old age, of these disciples, from the scene of this activity, there was no scarcity of people to take their place. It is this willingness on the part of chosen members of a community to devote their lives to the task of spreading the gospel message that helps that community to survive and adapt to new circumstances. There is no doubt about the quality of missionary zeal among the first members of the early Church, nor indeed that of the Irish people during the golden age of Irish monasticism, when throughout Europe monks and missionaries from these shores spread the Christian ideals of love of God and of living together in harmony and peace.
If here and now we are found wanting in these ideals there is one thing we can and must do, pray. People only pray for things they really want, such as health, success, secure employment, provision for their children’s future. But it is possible to enjoy all of these and yet be conscious of a profound emptiness in one’s life, for we were intended for something greater than these passing attainments. God has created us for himself, to be the recipients of his love and goodness for all eternity. This surely is something worth praying for, as are the vocations of those God chooses as his special agents in helping people attain their destiny. Not only is it important to pray for these, to think and talk about them, but they are so vitally necessary as to urge parents to encourage sons and daughters to consider seriously the option of a vocation within the family.
It is within the context of family that most vocations are nurtured. The French Jesuit, scientist and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, once said, “I come from a family where I became who I am. The great majority of my opinions, of my likes and dislikes, of my values and appreciations, of my judgments, my behaviour, my tastes, were moulded by the family I came from.” For this reason parents remain, and always will remain, the first and most important teachers of the faith to their children. In fulfilling this role they should strive to make prayer, daily family prayer, a natural part of life within the home. By so doing, they will most certainly be sowing the seeds of those vocations which in the providence of God will be necessary to minister to the spiritual needs of the next generation. Such vocations, however, must also be seen in the context of the whole spiritual life, the spiritual values, the spiritual aspirations of the community in which they are nurtured.
Each one here present can truly say, “as God called the Israelites to be his special people, just so has he called me. So what I do, what I am, concerns other people to as great an extent as it does myself.” Therefore, on this special Sunday, each one should feel in duty bound to ask God’s blessing, so that generous souls may not be wanting in the apostolic work of teaching and preaching to all nations. Christ’s injunction to his disciples was quite explicit, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he may send labourers to his harvest” (Mt 9:37).
God the Shepherd
Jesus often illustrated his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep. He sees himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. Today’s gospel considers the relationship between Jesus the Good Shepherd and the sheep. The imagery is old. The message is topical. It is relevant to us. By faith we accept Jesus, Our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God’s unbreakable love and faithfulness.
In order to gain eternal life – the ultimate benefit of our new existence – we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to attune our minds to the sound of his voice. We have to allow him to lead our steps in the path he has shown. We could reflect on whether we are doing that. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. The easy option can cause us to wander into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. There is no need for anxiety. God is faithful. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who displayed his unbreakable faithfulness to Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.
Paul and Barnabas ‘spoke out boldly’, and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord.
Recent popes have often urged us to take persoal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.
John’s magnificent vision depicts the happiness of heaven. Our departed sisters and brothers, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom, now see God as he really is. They rejoice in his presence in satisfied love. We are still on our pilgrim way. The resurrection gives us firm ground for hoping that we will eventually share their happiness. Even now we are united with them in the communion of saints. The liturgy we are celebrating and the heavenly liturgy portrayed by John form two parts of one canticle of praise. We offer it through the glorious and triumphant Christ to the One who sits on the throne.