Sunday Scriptures — Fourth Sunday of Easter C, Apr. 17, 2016

In all three years of the lectionary cycle, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The opening prayer of the Mass (the same all three years) prays that the flock may follow where the shepherd has led, namely, to heaven. Each year’s gospel is taken from chapter 10 of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus calls himself both the gate of the sheepfold and the good shepherd.: Year A, verses 1-10; Year B, 11-18; and Year C, 27-30. The first two readings do not directly relate to the theme of the sheep and the shepherd. The title of Good Shepherd was popular with early Christians. Images of the shepherd with the sheep on his shoulders (Luke 15:5) were common as depictions of Jesus, and the logo for the current Jubilee Year of Mercy develops the image, substituting a human for the sheep.
After the opening prayer, we begin with Acts 13:14, 43b-52. (The omitted verses report Paul’s speech in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia.) Paul’s address met with great success among many hearers, which is why a large crowd gathered the following sabbath. But just as Jesus met opposition from those in authority in Jerusalem, so Paul and Barnabas met opposition from the leaders in Antioch. We mustn’t think that in Paul’s time the Christians saw a distinction between Jews and Christians. Clearly, Paul and Barnabas considered themselves Jews. But gradually they came to realize that in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 49:6 (quoted in v. 47 of today’s reading), they must preach to Gentiles as well, and they ended up bringing more Gentiles than Jews to faith in Jesus. Over the course of several decades, with the increasing numbers of Gentile Christians and the opposition of the leaders of Judaism, Christians and Jews came to regard themselves as separate religions; but in Paul’s time that had not happened.
In the responsorial psalm — Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5 with 3c supplying the refrain — we have the themes of ourselves as the sheep of God’s flock (meaning that God is the shepherd), and the call of the Gentiles, “all you lands,” to join the worship offered by Israel.
The second reading — Revelation 7:9, 14b-17 — begins with a reference to the call of the Gentiles: a crowd “from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” Jesus is identified as the Lamb of God who purifies his followers, and, in the final verse, the Lamb is also their shepherd. This leads to the gospel.
In the gospel — John 10:27-30 — Jesus, having earlier identified himself as the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep, characterizes his sheep as those who follow him because they hear and recognize his voice. The result of following him is his gift to them of eternal life. No one is more powerful than God, who has given the sheep to Jesus, so Jesus’ promise of eternal life is solid. Indeed Jesus identifies himself with the Father: “The Father and I are one.” How this is true was the subject of decades and centuries of reflection, as the doctrine of the Trinity was developed.
To synthesize the messages: we Christians of all nations have been gathered into a single “flock,” the Church, which is being led by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, into the eternal life of heaven.

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