Sunday Scriptures — Fourth Sunday of Easter A, May 7, 2017

As I wrote last year, “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.”


The first reading — Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — gives the conclusion of Peter’s address to the people on Pentecost. Peter’s testimony proves persuasive and the hearers come to faith. The first thing for a believer is to be baptized. We learn two things about the effects of baptism. It brings forgiveness of sins and confers the Holy Spirit. Peter follows this with an indication that the salvation Jesus brings extends beyond the people of Israel: it will include Gentiles. The remainder of the Book of Acts will tell the story of the work of the apostles, including Paul, in spreading the gospel to Jews and Gentiles.


The responsorial psalm — Ps 23 with the first verse as the refrain — is the Good Shepherd psalm, anticipating the gospel reading.


The second reading — 1 Peter 2:20b-25 — tells of Jesus’ patient acceptance of his sufferings and death. This is an example for us: we are called to accept suffering which comes to us as a consequence of our good lives. But more fundamentally, Jesus’ suffering and death, patiently borne, have freed us from our sins — the forgiveness which we receive at baptism, as we heard in the first reading, as well as access to forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. The reading concludes with another foreshadowing of the Good Shepherd theme.


The image of the shepherd is familiar from many passages of scripture: King David had been a shepherd; psalms refer to God as shepherd of Israel and the psalmist’s shepherd; Ezekiel tells of God describing himself as a shepherd who judges between sheep, much like the king in Jesus’ parable of the judgment of the nations in Matthew; Jesus tells of the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. In today’s gospel — John 1:1-10 — there are two images Jesus uses for himself. the shepherd and the gate of the sheepfold. In both of them he makes a contrast with the thieves and robbers. There may be a tendency to ask, “Well, which is it: shepherd or gate?” but these are just different ways of illustrating Jesus’ care for us. Like the shepherd, he leads us to nourishment and safety. Like the gate of the fold where he gathers the sheep for the night, he protects us from thieves and predators — whatever would take us away from our life in God. Jesus promises us abundant life, eternal life, if we listen to his voice and follow him. Implicit in this is the requirement for us to be careful not to be led astray by voices other than his, by the temptations which come from the devil, from elements of culture which are contrary to the gospel, and from our own appetites and propensities which St. Paul calls “the flesh.” But the central message today is one for redemption and eternal life thanks to the saving work of our Good Shepherd.


2016/06/03 Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Feast (technically a solemnity) of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has its roots in medieval devotion to the Five Wounds of Jesus Christ — the last of which is the piercing of his heart by the soldier’s lance. The greatest impetus for its becoming a liturgical celebration came from St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who in the 1670’s reported visions of Jesus in which he spoke to her of his Sacred Heart as the fount of his love. Especially since 1856, the devotion has been strongly supported by various Popes.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is based on the heart as the symbol of love. Thus it is a reminder of God’s love for us, manifest in the Son of God’s taking on of human flesh for the sake of our redemption.
This year’s first reading is Ezekiel 34:11-17. The Lord promises the people that he will bring them back from exile to the promised land. He uses the image of himself as a shepherd gathering his sheep who have been scattered.
The responsorial psalm — Psalm 23, with verse 1 as the refrain — expresses our confidence in God as our shepherd who provides for us.
The second reading — Romans 5:5b-11 — tells us of God’s love for us in action: the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us sinners. God loves us despite our sinfulness and wills to redeem us. As Jesus says, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another.
The gospel this year is Luke 15:3-7. Here we return to the shepherd imagery. The shepherd seeks out and brings home the lost sheep. As in the passage from Ezekiel, the action is that of the shepherd. The scattered sheep of Ezekiel and the lost sheep of Jesus do not find their way home on their own: the shepherd finds them and brings them back. These passages assure us of what St. Paul tells us directly: God’s love is directed to each of us; none of us is outside his love.