1st Reading – Acts of the Apostles 13: 14, 43-52
Paul’s life and energy were focused by Jesus on the words that are quoted from Isaiah 49: 6: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles . . . an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” What impresses you the most in this reading? How is the Lord a light for you?
The Jews had a custom of shaking the dust from their feet when returning from pagan lands. It was a sign that they were purified from the contamination of foreign people and lands. Paul’s and Barnabus’ similar actions against the Jews was a major affront. In essence they were calling the Jews pagans! There was no greater insult to a Jew of Paul’s time (Birmingham, W&W, p. 286). Think about what YOU would boldly stand up against with YOUR LIFE.
2nd Reading – Revelation 7: 9, 14b-17
Many important and vivid symbols and images are contained in this reading. And such comfort! What brings comfort to you?
From Preaching Resources, April 29, 2007:
The image of the Lamb has four different, yet related meanings. First, the lamb is the Passover Lamb that saved us from death. Second, the Lamb is the Suffering Servant – the one whose sufferings brought about goodness. The suffering was not without value. Third, this Lamb is also enthroned in heaven and is one with God. Fourth, this Lamb is a Shepherd; he leads us to springs of life-giving waters. Also, all those who have suffered like this Lamb did – this immense crowd from every nation and race – are now dressed in white robes (white is the color of victory; victorious Roman generals would parade in white robes) and they are waving palm branches, another sign of victory and peace. This is the fulfillment of the covenant of Abraham – what had begun as a pure tribal confederation is now a multicultural, multinational, multilingual multitude! What meaning do you find in all this?
William Barclay says this: “The shout of the triumphant faithful ascribes salvation to God . . . God is the great savior, the great deliverer of his people. And the deliverance which he gives is not the deliverance of escape but the deliverance of conquest.” It is not a deliverance which saves one from trouble but which brings one triumphantly through trouble. “It does not make life easy, but it makes life great.” It is not Christian hope that we be saved from all trouble and distress. It is Christian hope that we can in Christ endure any kind of trouble and distress and remain erect through all of them, coming out with a glorious and eternal life in the end. (The Revelation of John, vol.2, p. 27)
William Barclay also points out that for the Hebrew blood was not primarily about death; it was about life. It was the very life-force of a person or animal. So the blood of Christ stands for his very life-force – all that he did and said and was — both in life, death and resurrection. What does it then mean to you to ‘wash’ your robe white in the blood of this Lamb? We must actively immerse ourselves in the very life of Christ – it is our baptismal promise and life. (The Revelation of John, vol.2, p. 31)
The Gospel — John 10: 27-30
What do you think about Jesus as the Good Shepherd? What else seems important to you about these words of Jesus’? “No one can take them out of my hand.” Hands are often used as strong symbols. Hands are a sign of connectedness, reassurance, care, and hope; they represent our basic need for interrelationships: a loving caress, a gentle stroke, a healing massage, a handshake. Hands are used in all of our sacraments. Four sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Sacrament of the Sick, and Holy Orders) actually call for an imposition of hands that involves actual physical touch. Three sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Marriage) use extended hands to ‘call down’ the Holy Spirit in blessing or consecration. (Living Liturgy, 2004, 121,123)
Imagine the scene. It is first-century Palestine. Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance. At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves. Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first. He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure, Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep. The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else. Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd,
Jesus is the model Good Shepherd. He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice. There is ownership. Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name. He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good. We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death.
The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock. The word pastor was derived from this image. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 378- 379)
Jesus is the ‘visible face’ of the invisible God. This is the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ life – that humans could know and love God. In the process, we humans also come to know and love each other and ourselves. We can know ourselves fully only in relating to others. We can control ourselves completely only in dealing with others. We can be ourselves truly only in union with others. We are hybrid creatures – a mixture of the solitary and the communal. We paradoxically only receive ourselves by giving ourselves – we find ourselves by losing ourselves. (Celebration, April , 2004) Doesn’t this feel like we are making ourselves pretty vulnerable? When we are honest with ourselves and put our true selves out there for the world to see, we are vulnerable. That is where God is. God is in our vulnerable places; God holds us in God’s hands there.