May 7, 2017 — Fourth Sunday of Easter
Imagine if our parish increased in numbers as much as the early Church did as reported in the First Reading from Acts. This is more or less a continuation of Peter’s sermon, part of which we heard last week. In fact it begins exactly the same way: “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed…” As indicated previously, St. Peter is clearly the spokesman for the Apostles.
However, what is remarkable about this particular passage is what is reported in the final verse: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.” The Church literally went from a Church of a few hundred to a Church of thousands almost instantly. How would we deal with that if it happened here? Peter’s words obviously touched lives. Historians are of the opinion that many of those who were baptized and converted on that day may have been pilgrims. They in turn took their faith back to where they were from, and it is clear how the Church grew so rapidly.
We who are baptized are called to share that same Good News, that same message. Our parish may not increase by thousands, but if each of us vowed to share our beliefs as those early baptized must have, we would truly be disciples, and the Church would surely grow and advance.
The conviction felt by Peter is shown again in the Second Reading from his First Letter. Reinforcing his strong beliefs which led to the huge conversion reported in Acts, Peter always points to Jesus as our example when he reminds us that we are to be disciples. He says, “For this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”
Does that mean we must suffer? Perhaps not, certainly not to the extent the Lord did, but it does mean that we must be committed enough to our faith to be prepared to suffer if necessary. It is not always comfortable following Christ. We know that, and we are very aware of it in what we read, what we have experienced, and what we see reported to us about what is happening in many places in the world.
Jesus is our example as someone who suffered. He bore our sins. He endured punishment. When He was rejected and reviled, He did not respond in kind, but with more commitment to us and His Father. We were healed through Him. We can be sheep who have gone astray. This Easter season is our time to return to our Shepherd and the Savior of our souls. We have been called, and it is a calling to which we need to respond.
The Gospel Reading for today reminds us that in addition to all we have heard already it is also Good Shepherd Sunday. Christ is more than an example to us; He is our Good Shepherd, and we are called to be like Him in that regard as well.
The image of a shepherd and sheep is a common one in the Bible and in Holy Scripture because the idea of a sheep and shepherds was so well known to the culture and the people of that time. It is not something we may relate to as well, but we can appreciate how important it was. In that area each night many flocks may have been kept together in one sheepfold, one protected area. For the purpose of rest and being good stewards, one shepherd may have been put in charge so the others could get some rest.
That one shepherd would sleep with his body across the gate to keep the sheep in and to keep invaders out. In Jesus’ own words from today’s Gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus also points out that “…the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep and leads them out.” Each shepherd had a personal connection with his sheep. A shepherd did not “drive” his sheep; he led them. He also had a distinctive call that his sheep recognized and responded to. In the morning each shepherd would come to the common sheepfold, give his unique call and his sheep would come out and follow him.
Do we follow our Shepherd? Do we listen carefully enough to recognize His voice? That is what our lives really should be about.