Commentary on the 4th Sunday of Easter, cycle A

1st Reading:  The Acts of the Apostles: 2: 14a, 36-41

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day. 

Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart”.  This is what repentance or conversion is all about. Peter’s message was urgent.  Repentance was not understood just as the turning-away from a laundry list of sins.  For Peter’s crowd it meant a radical reassessment of who Jesus really was-what his significance was  (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300).  Who is Jesus to you?  Right now?

Conversion is not a one-time event.  It is an ongoing process, a daily struggle.  Our responsibility as baptized Christians is to conform our lives to Christ, to seek his will for our lives, and to lay down our lives as Christ laid down his.  We must seek the strength to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are to claim our identity as forgiven and forgiving people, (p. 301).  What does this mean to you in our current situation? 

2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25

Beloved:  If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. 

Remember that Jesus’ wounds became his identification marks after resurrection. As ‘wounded healers’, we can let the Spirit of Jesus help us to bring life out of the good and the bad times of our lives. This letter is written to a people –many of whom were slaves — who were being persecuted for their faith under the Roman Emperor Domitian at the end of the first century. Their endurance in the face of suffering helped the church to survive even to this day. May we trust in this same Spirit when we face difficulties.   (Celebration, April 2005). How do you think we are ‘healed’ by the wounds of Christ? 

“Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover that by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart.  Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in the world.  Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship.  For them the word grace has proved a fount of mercy,”  (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 60).

The Gospel: John 10: 1-10

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Three important Hebrew Scripture readings serve as background for this passage:

Ezekiel 34+: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? . . . I am coming against these shepherds . . . I will save my sheep . . . I myself will look after and tend my sheep . . . The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal [but the sleek and strong I will destroy], shepherding them rightly.  

Jeremiah 23+:  “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter . . . I myself will gather the remnant of my flock . . . and bring them back to their meadow . . . so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none will be missing, says the Lord.  

Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” . . .

Some ideas and facts concerning shepherds:

In Palestine sheep were kept mostly for their wool – not for their meat only.  The sheep were often with the shepherd for many years; they were called by descriptive ‘pet’ names. A shepherd had to be a vigilant and fearless guide for his sheep. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol.II, p.56)

In this land of winding paths and rock cliffs with thin pastures surrounded by desert and wild animals, an alert and wise shepherd was indispensable to the survival of the sheep. At the end of the day, the shepherd would hold out his rod, close to the ground, having each sheep pass under it as the shepherd would examine it to see if it needed any care. Wounded ones would be ‘cleaned’ and anointed with oil; thirsty ones would be given water.  When all had been cared for, the shepherd would lie down and sleep across the entrance to the sheepfold. He was the safe ‘gate’ by which the sheep could come and go. In this way, the shepherd became the source of life and goodness [salvation].  The gate did not ‘confine’ the sheep, but provided a “spaciousness of security, peace, and protection.”

In the morning when it was time to take the sheep to pasture, the shepherds would call to their sheep by a special sound or whistle, laugh or strange type of noise or song. Each sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd. They followed that voice for it meant food, protection, warmth, healing and safety.  This sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed shepherd was the source of life and protection, strength and guidance for the sheep.  (Celebration, April 1999 & 2005, as well as John Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_cultural.html).

The image of being sheep can make us a bit uncomfortable – it can imply we are just part of a ‘flock’ – sort of stupid and dependent.  It seems to imply that we need to be ‘blindly’ obedient. But remember that obedience first means to listen. When we listen to our Shepherd Jesus, we find insight, truth, vision, understanding. He accompanies us through dark valleys and shows where to find life and real safety. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p.131)

In today’s world we encounter many gates. There are gated communities, gates of entry into theaters and sporting events, toll gates. Each gate represents both a dividing line and a means of entry. How does this speak to your spirituality? 

In John’s gospel, there is a series of solemn statements that identifies aspects of Jesus’ identity. These are called the “I am” statements, such as “I am . . . the bread of life (6:48); the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the resurrection and the life (11:25). In this week’s gospel, Jesus asserts, “I am the gate” (10:7, 9). This gate opens up to abundant life . . .  http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_working.html

Going through the gate instead of hopping the fence…reminds us that there is no easy way out of our difficult times.  We have to go THROUGH, and a pasture will await us there.  From Riding the Dragon (R. Wicks, p. 150, quoting The Alchemist by P. Coelho):  “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver.  “And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about moving forward.  The rest is up to Allah, including the danger.”

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: