April 22, 2018 — Fourth Sunday of Easter
In the First Letter of St. John, from which our Second Reading comes, John declares, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” St. John also provides us with our Gospel Reading. In that passage the Lord speaks of being the Good Shepherd. It reinforces the idea of us being the children of God as Jesus says, “…and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Jesus is certainly our Good Shepherd. Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is also called Good Shepherd Sunday. It always occurs at this time of year, although Jesus is our Good Shepherd every day and every hour. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep, which is what Jesus did for us, His children.
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles we are treated to St. Peter preaching. Today’s First Reading is another example of that. Five separate times in Acts Peter preaches. His emphasis is always on Christ’s Resurrection. In one way or another in every sermon Peter states, “God raised him from the dead.”
In association with Peter’s stress of Jesus’ resurrection is the call for repentance. Peter tends to remind us that if we truly repent, our sins are forgiven. He tells us that not only are we forgiven, but we are saved, But Peter did not merely proclaim Jesus as a way of salvation, but that He was really the only way to salvation. As he states in today’s reading, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Peter explains many times that Jesus provides us all hope, that “our hope is in the Lord.” He is the Good Shepherd on Whom we must rely.
Just as St. Peter wants us to understand and appreciate what Jesus did for us, St. John (in his First Letter, our Second Reading) wants us to know how much God loves us. John asks us to “see what love the Father has bestowed on us.” John tells us we need to not only be aware of it, but also to ponder and meditate on it intently. Do we really do that? It is important.
What might keep us from doing that? Perhaps we feel God must prove His love before we accept it. It may also be doubt, the unwillingness to trust God’s love because our lives may be filled with hurts and the pain of living. Sometimes it may just take us time to gain a complete understanding of God’s love for us.
The idea that we are all God’s children is reinforced many times in Holy Scripture. In Second Corinthians, Paul tells us that God says, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters.” In his letter to the Romans Paul cites the Holy Spirit, saying “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Christ is the light of the world, and we are called to provide light as well, to reflect His light. That is what it means by grasping what salvation is, and accepting that we are the children of God.
Nevertheless, as we hear the Gospel of John and the reference to the Good Shepherd, that is what brings everything into focus for us. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we need to be aware that we remain in the Easter Season. The Easter Season is a continual celebration of the once central mystery of our Church, that Jesus gave His life for us by dying on the Cross. He saved us from our sins.
We have reflected previously on why the image of a shepherd and sheep is an important one during Jesus’ time. To be a shepherd in Jesus’ time required living a life of total self-giving. The area where Jesus lived and worked had ground that was mostly rough and rocky. Raising sheep was, nonetheless, possible. However, it required moving constantly to find pastures for grazing. Every flock of sheep needed a shepherd who would lead the flock from place to place so the sheep could eat and survive. (“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall lack.”)
Thus, being a shepherd could be very difficult. The shepherd was on duty every hour of every day. In the midst of that sheep could get lost, they could be attacked by predators, and they could be stolen by others. We as people are not that different from the sheep. Sheep without a shepherd were virtually defenseless. Look at out society. We have children who are orphans even though they have parents; we have people who long to be loved and protected. We are among those people. But we have a Good Shepherd, Who loves us and Who is with us always, because we are His children.