Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C—April 17, 2016

Jesus offers a promise of eternal life.  What must we do to receive it?

By Gayle Somers

Gospel (Read Jn 10:27-30)

In our very brief Gospel reading, Jesus makes a wonderful promise to shepherd His people into eternal life.  We, “the sheep,” must “hear” and “follow” Him.  These two words magnificently sum up the appropriate human response to the great gift He has won for us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  For our part, we must be willing to think of ourselves as sheep—animals that depend entirely on the good care of a shepherd in order to survive.  If the sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd, a voice they recognize, and follow his instructions, they will find good pasture and be safe from predators.  Jesus uses this metaphor to assure us that we are protected by the Father’s love when we listen to Him, because “no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.”

Does that mean that once we begin hearing the Voice of Jesus, in a dramatic or quiet conversion, we are guaranteed eternal life with Him?  Yes, as long as we remember that we must both “hear” and “follow.”  If a sheep in a shepherd’s flock begins listening to its own voice or the voice of a predator, he leaves the safety and care of the shepherd.  He puts himself in grave danger.

So it is with us.  Ours is the choice to listen to the Voice of Jesus—in His Church, where He makes Himself known in her teachings, worship, and sacraments; in the Scripture; in our consciences—and then to follow.  We, like sheep, can foolishly be led astray.  Our Shepherd will come looking for us, of course.  As soon as we hear and follow Him, repenting of our waywardness, we can once again enjoy the kindness and wisdom of His love and receive the eternal life He wishes to give us.

Why would we ever want to leave our Shepherd’s care?

Possible response:  Father, I know that no one can take me out of Your hand but myself.  Please help me be faithful to my Shepherd.

First Reading (Read Acts 13:14, 43-52)

In this reading, we have an excellent opportunity to see the difference between sheep who listen to the Voice of their Shepherd and those who don’t.  Paul and Barnabas were on a missionary journey, preaching the Gospel first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles throughout the Greco-Roman empire.  In the synagogue in Antioch, a large crowd (“almost the whole city”) had gathered to “hear the word of the Lord.”  How did these people hear the Voice of the Shepherd after His Ascension?  They heard it through the preaching of the Church He built before He left.  The Shepherd’s Voice now comes through human voices.

However, “the Jews saw the crowds [and] were filled with jealousy.”  What causes us to be jealous of others?  We listen to our own voice in our heads—“Why is he getting so much attention?  What’s so great about that guy?  Shouldn’t the crowds be listening to me instead?”  Danger!  When this kind of thinking kicks in, it’s impossible to hear the Shepherd’s Voice.  Look at the results.  The Jews violently contradicted Paul.  He understands that they made a choice to reject the word of God and thus “condemn [themselves] as unworthy of eternal life.”  Jesus has not condemned them.  They have removed themselves from His care; they have chosen not to receive the gift He died to give them.

So, the missionaries preached God’s word to the Gentiles, and they “were delighted… and glorified the word of the Lord.”  They were willing to listen to the Shepherd’s Voice.  They embraced the destiny for which all of us are designed—eternal life.  The Jews were full of anger and violence after listening to their own voices; the disciples, although persecuted, were “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”  No wonder Jesus told His followers to “hear” and “follow” Him for safe pasture.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I am vulnerable to the mistake of listening to my own voice rather than Yours.  Please strengthen me against that.

Psalm (Read Ps 100:1-3, 5)

Because we are thinking of ourselves as sheep in Jesus’ flock, we will find today’s psalm especially helpful in expressing our gratitude to such a Shepherd as He.  To be in His care means we can “sing joyfully” and “serve the Lord with gladness.”  We know that our Shepherd is “good” and that His “kindness endures forever,” right into eternal life.  We know that we were made for Him, and in Him is our true happiness:  “We are His people, the sheep of His flock.”

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read Rev 7:9, 14b-17)

St. John gives us a heavenly vision of God’s flock—all those who have “survived the time of great distress” (the whole history of the world since the Fall, which initiated “the great distress”).  They have found the good pasture Jesus promised those who “hear” and “follow” His Voice.  And look how good it is!  “They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them.”  Why are they so safe?  “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

May we in God’s flock have the grace to persevere to receive all that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, promises us.

Possible response:  “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” (Ps 23:1)

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