April 17, 2016 — Fourth Sunday of Easter
Today’s readings contrast the discouraging experience of Sts. Paul and Barnabas in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles to the Glory of Heaven reflected in the Second Reading from the Book of Revelation to the brief but definitive assurance we receive from Jesus Himself in the Gospel Reading from John.
At the beginning of the First Reading Paul and Barnabas find themselves in Antioch in Pisidia after departing from Perga. Perga is a city on coast and Antioch is some 135 miles distance from there located in the mountains in the area called Galatia (you may recall Paul’s Letter to the Galatians). There is some scholarly thought that Paul headed to the mountains for health reasons.
Regardless, he and Barnabas initially received acceptance and enthusiasm in relation to their message of Jesus Christ, but then were rejected and banished from the region of Antiochn. If we learn nothing else about Paul and his faith, we learn how devoted and determined he was, how strong and unfailing his faith tended to be. The message for us, of course, is that we need to achieve that same level of determination and commitment felt by Paul. St. Paul found a joy and happiness in his faith — something that we need to strive for, as well. That happiness is within reach for us but we must make an effort to attain it.
St. John’s remarkable vision, as reported in the Second Reading from Revelation is filled with insights into Heaven for us. For those in Heaven there is an immediate presence of God. Those in Heaven can approach God and be with Him. There are no obstructions or obstacles. God dwells there “among His people.” It is impossible for us to conceive of this, which is why this particular Scriptural passage may seem so unworldly to us. In the Psalms David sang, “May I dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” That is our desire as well and that is fulfilled in Heaven, not on earth.
Our focus needs to always be on Heaven, certainly during this glorious Easter season. As is also reported in this Second Reading, “The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them.” This is truly paradise and that is our ultimate goal. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It almost produces a vision of a loving mother wiping away the tears from the eyes of a child and providing that everlasting comfort. That happens in Heaven nevertheless. If we ask Him and trust in Him, God can provide comfort to us now, but in Heaven he will wipe away our sorrows and pains forever.
The Gospel Reading from St. John is in keeping with the clichéd phrase “short and sweet.” Even though the Gospel Reading is not lengthy, the Lord makes some things very clear to us. He reaffirms what we have heard in the Second Reading when He says of His sheep, His flock, His followers, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” This is Heaven as referenced in Revelation. This eternal life is greater than and far beyond what we can imagine having only experienced physical life. Eternal life is never-ending.
“No one can take them out of my hand.” As followers of the Lord, as disciples, we know that He will take care of us, that we are safe in His Hands. It is this safety and security that can hold us up when we face the challenges outlined in the First Reading. It is comforting to know that the Hands that created the world created us also, and it is those Hands that keep us safe and hold on to us always.