Tag Archives: sheep

4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

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

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?

Reflect on this Arthurian tale:
In one of his quests Percival enters the castle of the Fisher King who has been wounded in the groin in a hunting accident, representing a loss of his generative powers. His wound will not heal and as a result, his kingdom becomes a wasteland. There is drought, crops will not grow, pestilence and disease are everywhere, all of which is symbolic of a disease of the soul. The wasteland comes about when one acts not out of authenticity, but out of the power of one’s position. Joseph Campbell calls this wasteland the inauthentic life, a state of being which is barren of the truth of who you are. In ancient cultures, the vitality of the kingdom was dependant on the vitality of the king. Percival, who had always acted spontaneously out of his own nature, for the first time remembers that a knight is not supposed to speak to a king until spoken to first, and even though he is moved to do so, does not ask, “What ails you?” the words that would have healed the king. He is escorted from the castle and when he turns to look back, it is gone. He says, “Alas, what is God? Were He great, He would not have heaped undeserved disgrace on us both. I was in his service, expecting His grace. But I now renounce Him and His service. If He hates me, I shall bear that. Good friend, when your own time comes for battle, let a woman be your shield, (CM, 452). You are not supposed to get a second chance. Percival realizes his mistake and spends many years searching for the castle, during which time he falls in love. Now in this new kind of relationship to a woman, Percival again finds the castle, asks of the Fisher King, “What ails you?” and thus heals the king and restores the land. When Parzival asks ‘what ails you?’ he has experienced the other in himself. The reality is that compassion is in humanity, and is our prime expression.
What cuts to Percival’s heart? What results from his conversion? His own change of heart affects the whole kingdom. Note the parallels in this story to the scripture passage. Jesus is our heart of compassion within us.

2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25
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 the 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
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).

Sheep are naturally very vulnerable animals. If one gets lost, it will fall to the ground and ‘bleat’ loudly until the shepherd finds it. We can learn a lot from sheep!(The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p.77)

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 . . .
Pray about which image seems most meaningful to you.
(“Working with the Word” 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 can’t skip steps. 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.”

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Scripture Commentary for Christ the King, cycle A

1st Reading – Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17

Prophet to his people during their exile in Babylonia, Ezekiel shared their sense of having been failed by their leaders, who, from David onward, had been ideally cast in the role of shepherd of God’s flock, Israel.  As history attests, however, that ideal was not always realized and, as a result, the people of God were left unattended, like sheep left to founder on their own without a shepherd.  Right before this reading, Ezekiel reprimands failed shepherds in the past.  Only God will restore and lead God’s people to wholeness.  It is a message of hope  (Preaching Resources from 11/20/2005).

From The Word into Life, Cycle A, 122:

Usually we reserve the title, “pastor” for the leader of a religious community.  The pastor is to shepherd . . . But perhaps we fail to recognize that every believer is also commissioned, through baptism, to look to the needs of others. We are a priestly peopleand priestly people “pastor.” Ezekiel responded to the needs of his despondent exiled community in the early sixth century BC. To encourage them, he presented God as a shepherd. Yahweh would focus attention on the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the sick. Later, in today’s gospel we find Jesus who fulfills this image and also identifies with all those who suffer.

Ezekiel’s vision of a new beginning under leadership may seem to be slightly diminished by the ominous parenthetical phrase included in verse 16:  “but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.”  Some scholars suggest that this phrase is a gloss, later interpolated into the text and, as such, should be omitted.  Certainly, it seems unlikely that God would shepherd the people lovingly with one hand and strike them down with the other.  Others may be more correct in pointing out that this surprising phrase may be the result of a copyist’s error. Only a yod (smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet) differentiates the Hebrew text (I will destroy) from the Greek (Septuagint), Syrian and Vulgate translations, which read: “I will strengthen the fat and the strong.”

What other meanings do you ‘get’ from all this? What if the fat and strong were fat and strong because they took too much for themselves?  (Celebration, Nov. 1999)

What of the reference to goats?  Why are goats generally seen as bad in scripture?  Goats were often used for sin and guilt offerings.  Most Palestinian goats were black (vs the white sheep).  Goats often lead the flock, so they can be associated with political leaders; perhaps Ezekiel was comparing the goats to the failed shepherds (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 315).

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28

In the Jewish tradition, offering the ‘first-fruits’ of a harvest was a way to bless the entire harvest – a way to consecrate the entire harvest. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s Kingdom, we have the promise and blessing of abundant life in this Kingdom. So death is an enemy that has been overcome!

(Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year A, 581)

When Paul talks about Adam, he talking about all of us when we choose that which is bad for us. It is our ‘false-self’ – our deeply insecure self that does not trust that God has created us to be God’s image. As Adam, we reject living in a loving, trusting relationship with our creator. In other words, ‘being Adam’ is being in sin. It is giving into our endless capacity to destroy ourselves. As ‘Adams and Eves’, we are faced with death – with the fact that someday the world will have no time or place for us. It is only our faith in the God that Christ Jesus brings us that saves us from this terrible predicament. In Jesus we find a God who loves us despite our insecurities and wishes to show us the way beyond this death sentence. (Thoughts from John Dwyer, “A Retreat with Paul,” Part 2)

What does Paul mean by Christ’s delivery of the kingdom to the Father and his subjection to him? What Paul seems to be saying is that all the ways that God has acted toward the world is revealed and upheld in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. After all has been redeemed (set free), we will be able to know God directly. For now Christ is the visible face of the invisible God. Jesus leads us to and involves us with this God of love. When we are brought fully into God’s loving presence we will be enjoying the Beatific Vision; God will be all in all, not only in Christians but in the whole world that Christ restores fully in God’s love. All death will finally and forever be destroyed. That is the Good News of Jesus Christ!(Scripture In Depth,Reginald Fuller,http://liturgy.slu.edu

The Gospel – Matthew 25: 31-46

This is an apocalyptic parable. It is about the ‘end-times’the ultimate outcome of history. It attempts to give a view of history and humans from God’s point of view.

It is about the end times as it challenges us in living as a Christian here and now.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Nov.2002:

As Jesus explains it, there is only one way to exercise power in this world: for the sake of the powerless.  Those with food and drink, should share it.  Those who are on the inside should be hospitable to those on the outside.  If someone is cold, someone with clothes should keep him or her warm.  If someone is sick, those who are well should be attending.  If people are oppressed, those who have their liberty should look to their needs. If you want to inherit the kingdom, you can do so right now: Put your hat on and go visit the sick Christ.  Set a place at your table for the lonely Christ.  Forgive, support, or lift up the burdened Christ.  Then, the kingdom begins to grow within us – and among us.

From The Cultural World of Jesus by John Pilch — On Sheep and Goats:

Sheep came to symbolize honor, virility, and strength.  Goats were considered lustful and lecherous animals.  Unlike rams, goats allow other males access to their females. Also, goats were associated with sin, for example, the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21-11) Even in Greek culture, the ram was associated with honorable Greek gods like Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon, while the goat was associated with Greek gods known for shameful and unrestrained behavior like Pan, Bacchus, and Aphrodite. What is the basis for Jesus’ final, definite determination of in-group (sheep) and outgroup (goats)? Hospitality! The kindness and steadfast love that one owed one’s family was to be extended to others, especially those in need.

From Living Liturgy, Year A:

What’s surprising about the judgment (in Matthew 25) is that neither the good nor the wicked knew that what they were doing or not doing was for Christ. It was just true empathy – feeling with the one in need. Another point about Christ’s judgment — growth in discipleship and living the paschal mystery is measured by the extent to which we look upon the other as Christ, loving the other as Christ, doing for the other as Christ.  This is how we come to eschatological joy.  This is how we “share in the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.” Think about it: from the first moment of creation, God planned for us to share in this everlasting joy!

4th Sunday of Easter, cycle A

sheepgate

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

Peter’s listeners “were deeply shaken” – literally translated:

“cut, or pierced 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 was really was-what his significance was  (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300).  Who is Jesus to you?  Right now?

Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing says that when we love people and “hold him or her in union and forgiveness’ we are holding them to the Body of Christ as we live as part of that ‘body.’ As Jesus loved and forgave, so we by our baptism are empowered to do likewise. “The incredible graciousness. power, and mercy that came into our world in Jesus is still . . . in our world in us, the Body of Christ. What Jesus did we too can do; in fact, that is precisely what we are asked to do.” (p. 89-90)

2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25

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?

The Hebrew Scripture’s background for this reading is probably Isaiah 53: 4 – 12 – a Suffering Servant song.  “By his wounds we are healed . . .” — Jesus and we are bound together by the chafing rope of pain. There is something about suffering that longs to be shared. But with Jesus suffering can become a blessing. What if in Jesus we find a way to trust in that love despite whatever happens?  What if we actually believe that in Jesus we are guaranteed a happy-ending? Love can become the oil for the wounds of suffering, and suffering can become the oil for the fire of love. Let us rely on our Risen Lord, our Good Shepherd. (Celebration, April 2005)

“Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the 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

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).

Sheep are naturally very vulnerable animals. If one gets lost, it will fall to the ground and ‘bleat’ loudly until the shepherd finds it. We can learn a lot from sheep!(The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p.77)

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)

William Barclay tells us of an interesting Jewish legend that was used to explain why God chose Moses to be leader of his people. “When Moses was feeding the sheep of his father-in-law in the wilderness, a young sheep ran away. Moses followed it until it reached a ravine, where it found a well to drink from. When Moses got up to it, he said: ‘I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. Now you must be weary.’ He took the sheep on his shoulders and carried it back.  Then God said: “Because you have shown pity in leading back one of a flock belonging to a man, you shall lead my flock Israel.’” It is good to recall that the word pastor comes from a Latin word for shepherd.  (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. II, p.54-55)

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. What does Jesus divide? What does Jesus open up?

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 . . .

Pray about which image seems most meaningful to you.

(“Working with the Word” 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 can’t skip steps.  We have to go THROUGH, and a pasture will await us there.  From Riding the Dragon (R. Wicks, p. 150, quoting The Alchemistby 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.”