April 20, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Acts of the Apostles again is the source for the first reading for Mass this weekend in the season of Easter.

St. Peter, once more the spokesman for the Apostles, is filled with the Holy Spirit. He is not speaking on his own.

In this story, Peter restores a person unable to walk to wholeness, declaring that this miraculous event came not as the result of his own power or of any earthly power, but through the power of Jesus.

Furthermore, Peter makes it clear that Jesus, who was crucified on Calvary, is the Son of God and the Savior. Jesus is the gateway to eternal life itself, the single source of God’s favor and everlasting life.

The First Epistle of St. John provides the second reading. These three epistles of John are splendid in their superb use of language.

This reading declares that true believers are “children of God” (1 Jn 3:1). It is a powerful concept, meaning that through and in Jesus, believers become much more than merely creatures of God. They truly are God’s children by adoption.

The Scriptures have many titles and names for God. He is the master, the Creator, the king and the almighty. In this reading, God is the Father. The title conveys all that the relationship between a child and an earthly father suggests.

The final reading is a passage from St. John’s Gospel in which Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd. This title, occurring elsewhere in the New Testament, with many echoes of the Old Testament, offers lessons in itself.

In Greek, the language of the Gospel, “good” means “ideal.” Jesus is the perfect shepherd. Thus, Jesus not only leads the sheep but risks everything—even his own life—for the sheep. The image has overtones of the Lord’s sacrificial death on Calvary.

Another lesson is that we are sheep. Sheep are not aggressive. They are not predators. They are shy, easily the prey of vicious enemies that capitalize on the sheep’s innocence and vulnerability. Humans resemble sheep, as humans unsuspectingly so often are exposed to the dangers of sin and to the meanness of sinful persons. The Lord protects us.

“Sheep that do not belong to this fold” (Jn 10:16) refers to enemies, not just strangers, who lie in waiting for the weak.

In the agrarian world of that day’s Israel, Jesus used images familiar to everyone, such as shepherds and sheep. He wanted all to understand and to know God, his mercy, love and the potential of all to live in this love.

Reflection

For weeks, the Church has celebrated the resurrection, and it still celebrates the Lord’s risen life this weekend.

In these readings, the Church reminds us that the resurrection was not just a stupendous event that came and went. Instead, it is with us now. How? Peter brought people to God. He brought God’s life-giving power to them. His successors continue in this wondrous exchange.

In our inevitable limitations, we humans so often ignore our own vulnerability and inflate our strengths. We are at the mercy of death-dealing and devious forces, some with human faces. Some come from within us. We must acknowledge these realities.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, ready to sacrifice his earthly life to protect us from death.

We need the Lord. Without the Lord, we risk eternal death, helpless before our enemies. He alone guides us to peace and to life.

The Lord, however, does not invade our hearts. We are free to choose for ourselves, in a dramatic personal selection of life in Christ or eternal death.

We must convert and commit. Essential to eternal life is a total and absolute commitment to God, through Jesus.

It is this simple, this basic. †

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