(Fourth A, daily 2)
In last Sunday's 1st. Reading we had St. Peter's address to the crowd who had gathered because of the commotion caused by the descent of the Holy Spirit. In that address, St. Peter retold the story of Jesus of Nazareth – a man commended by God with mighty deeds and wonders. He contrasted the activity of the people – they crucified Jesus of Nazareth with God's activity — God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death.
As he says in today's 1st. Reading: "God has made both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified" St. Peter describes himself and the other Apostles as witnesses of Christ's Resurrection. (1:22, 3:15). The Glorified Christ, enthroned at God's right hand, is the One who bestows the Holy Spirit.
In this morning's 1st. Reading we have the response of the crowd. St. Luke tells us that, after hearing St. Peter's address, the crowd were "cut to the heart". By using the phrase, St. Luke means to convey the idea that the crowd were deeply sorrowful & repentant. They ask the Apostles: "What are we to do?". St. Peter responds:
"Repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". (Lk, 3:7-16, Acts 1:5, 11:16 & 19:4).
The Greek word for repentance -- metanoia -- means a radical change in one's behaviour & way of life.
St. Luke applies the phrase "this corrupt generation" (Deut. 32:5) to those Jews who rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. (Lk. 11:29-32, 47-51).
St. Luke goes on to describe how 3,000 members were added to the Early Community. (v. 41).
The number 3,000 shows that many of St. Peter's listeners did accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. These converts are the 1st. members of God's new chosen people).
(a). Called To Reform Our Lives
That we are all called to reform our lives is a theme that runs all through the New Testament. The opening words of Christ's public ministry were: The time has come the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News. In his last words, before his Ascension Christ commands his Apostles to go into the world and proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins.The Early Church continued this emphasis on preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (3:19, 8:22, 17:30, 20:21 & 26:20)
In this morning's 1st. Reading, St. Peter exhorts his listeners to repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Not only will their sins be forgiven, they will also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repentance - Baptism - the gift of the Holy Spirit were an integral part of life in the Early Community.
Like the Early Christians, we are all called to reform our lives. We are all called to pattern our lives more and more on the words and example of Christ. Once we repent and ask God for forgiveness, we are assured of God's forgiveness. Because forgiveness is always God’s answer to true and genuine repentance. God always listens to a humble & contrite.
2nd. Reading (1Pet. 2:20-25)
From the content, it is obvious that the community to which the first Letter of Peter is addressed were undergoing persecution & harassment. In this morning’s 2nd. Reading St. Peter exhorts them to follow the example of Christ & persevere in their faith.
Though he was innocent, Christ was insulted and suffered to the point of death.
St. Peter reminds the Early Christians that Christ “bore our sins in his body upon the Cross…By his wounds you have been healed”. We are all familiar with these words because St. Peter is more or less paraphrasing the words of the Prophet Isaiah which are always read on Good Friday.
It is because of Christ's suffering & death that we have become reconciled to God, the Father, and become his adopted sons & daughters. St. Peter then exhorts the early Christians to take courage from the example of Christ and persevere in their faith, despite the persecutions they are undergoing. At the present time, we have many Christians throughout the world who are being persecuted because of the their faith. Let us pray that they too will take courage from the example of Christ and persevere in their faith.
The Reading ends with St. Peter reminding his listeners that, because of their repentance and Baptism, they have now returned to the Shepherd & Guardian of their souls.These last words lead us into today's Gospel.
Gospel Jn. 10:1-10
The 4th. Sunday, in the Easter season, is called Good Shepherd Sunday. This morning's Gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ “Good Shepherd” discourse While most of us in 21st. century America have little or no personal exposure to sheep and shepherds, the biblical imagery is easy enough to understand. The key element is the intimate relationship between the sheep and their shepherd. The sheep know & trust their shepherd and willingly follow him.
In the Old Testament, God is often spoken of as the Shepherd of his people. We are all familiar with today's Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want... He guides me on right paths for his name's sake".
The Prophets presented the unfaithful leaders of Israel as shepherds who have no concern for their sheep (Ezek. 34:23, 37:24) All of this forms the background to the Parable of the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd is one of the abiding pictures of Christ in Christian imagination. Words like "pastor" & "pastoral care" draw their meaning and power from the image of Christ as the caring & nurturing Shepherd of his flock. Christ is the Model shepherd who knows his sheep & is willing to lay down his life for them.
Vv. 1-10 -- Features 2 Short Parables
Today's Gospel features 2 short parables about shepherds and sheep gates. According to tradition, Christ was a carpenter & not a shepherd but he obviously knew a lot about sheep & shepherds.
(a). Vv 1-6 -- The 1st. Parable
The 1st. Parable starts off with Christ saying that there are 2 ways of entering the sheepfold depending on whether one wants to care for the sheep or harm them
Early in the morning, the true shepherd enters through the gate. The gatekeeper opens it for him & his sheep hear his voice as he calls each of them by name.
We are to imagine a common sheepfold, where several flocks are gathered at night for safety. Those who climb in another way – over the rocks & brambles – are thieves or robbers. In ancient Israel sheep were kept for their wool. So, a shepherd would have the same sheep for quite a number of years. Obviously the shepherd gave names to his sheep.
Though several flocks were gathered in the common sheepfold, the sheep recognize the familiar voice of their own shepherd and gladly respond when he calls out their names. The sheep will not follow a stranger, because they do not recognize his voice. Once his sheep have been assembled, the shepherd leads them out to pasture.
- 4 In ancient Israel, the shepherd went in front & the sheep followed. The shepherd went in front to make sure that the path was safe.
This 1st. Parable contrasts the true shepherd with the thieves & robbers. It puts the emphasis on the gate as the proper means of access to the sheep and the proper means of bringing them out to pasture. V. 6 -- tells us that the Pharisees did not understand Jesus.
(a). The 2nd. Parable -- Vv. 7-10 -- Jesus Is The Gate Of The Sheepfold
In the 2nd. Parable, the focus is on the gate of the sheepfold. Here Jesus identifies himself as the gate of the sheepfold. Whoever enters the sheepfold through him will be safe and well cared for.
2 Types Of Sheepfolds
In ancient Israel, there were 2 types of sheep folds. (1). In the towns & villages, there were communal sheepfolds, where all the village flocks were sheltered, when they came home at night. It was to this kind of sheep fold that Christ refers to in vv. 2-3.
(2). But, when the sheep were out on the hills in the warm season, they were collected into sheep folds on the hillside. These hillside sheepfolds were just open spaces enclosed by a wall. There was an opening through which the sheep went in and out but there was no gate as such. What happened was that, at night, the shepherd lay across the opening. No sheep could go in or out except over his body. In the most literal sense, the shepherd was the gate.
- 7 -- Christ had all of this in mind when he said: "I am the gate for the sheep". Hopefully this will help you understand Christ's words: "I am the gate of the sheepfold"
- 8 – St. John describes those, who came before Christ as thieves & robbers. St. John is probably referring to the Jewish leaders & the tradition they appealed to. They did not protect or find nourishing pastures for their flocks.
- 9 -- He says that anyone, who enters through him, will be saved. He will go in & out freely & will find pasture. So, Christ is not only the shepherd, he is also the gate of the sheepfold. The word “pasture” was a common metaphor for salvation. (cf. Ez. 34:12-15)
Those who leave the sheepfold through Jesus, the gate, will find pasture. Those who enter the sheepfold through Jesus, the gate, are assured of protection and safety. On the other hand, Christ has come that they might have life & have it more abundantly.
In this passage, St. John insists that the Glorified Christ is the only way to salvation. As Christ himself says: "Whoever enters through me will be saved". It is in & through the Glorified Christ & the power of the Holy Spirit that we all have direct & personal access to our Heavenly Father & Creator. It is also in & through the Glorified Christ & the power of the Holy Spirit that we can all look forward to abundance of life in the next world.
In our prayers to Christ, the Good Shepherd, let us pray for all of those who have been appointed shepherds over his God's people.
Let us pray for Pope Francis that God will continue to bless him with health of mind and body. Let us pray for all bishops and priests, but especially for Bishop Barbarito and the priests of our own diocese.
Let us pray that, following the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd, all leaders in the Christian community may look after their flock with ever more care: ever more concern: ever more generosity.