Fourth Sunday Of Easter
The first reading continues the Lectionary’s post-Easter series of selections from Acts of Apostles. The high priestly families, responsible for the arrest and execution of Jesus are on the move against The Way – a name used of and by early Christians for their own mission still within Judaism. These high-priestly families belonged to a religious faction called Sadducees. Sadducees rejected the Pharisees’ belief in a resurrection of the dead. Yet here were the disciples of Jesus proclaiming that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. The temple police arrested the apostles and put them into prison. Luke names the leaders of the conspiracy against The Way. They were all of the high priestly families. Prominent among them were Annas and Caiphas. The family of Annas would remain deadly, homicidal enemies of Christianity until the year 62 A.D., when the last of the family was demoted from the high priesthood by Roman authority.
The day after their arrest, the apostles were conducted into a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the high council of Jewish government in matters of religion and some civic matters. The accusers wanted to know by what authority the apostles were publicly teaching and proclaiming Jesus’ resurrect-ion. Our reading begins when Simon Peter responds. He refers to the miracle of the previous day, when a man born lame was cured of his physical limitation as Peter invoked the name of Jesus over him. Peter reminds them of Jesus “whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead,” that it was only by the power of Jesus’ name that the man was healed. Peter then quotes from Psalm 118 the words which are the people’s response to the Responsorial Psalm verses, “He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” This Psalm’s background and Christian interpretation were discussed in this column for the Second Sunday of Easter. Luke’s composition of this speech of Simon Peter closes with an important catechesis, “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.”
The second reading is a selection, as on the two previous Sundays, from the First Letter of John.
The author points out “the love the Father bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” This echoes an older theology, that of St. Paul. In Romans 8. There Paul speaks of our adoption into God’s family in similar words. We have received the same Holy Spirit who acted in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Having that same Spirit makes us children (sons) of God, so that we may address God the Father just as Jesus did, “Abba!” This is the familiar term by which small children to this day call their earthly fathers, “Daddy.” John’s letter notes that Christians have a difficult time fitting into the world, “The world does not know us because it does not know him,” (Jesus or the Father). Next John tells us that being part of God’s family now is not the final status, since “what we shall be has not yet been revealed. This much we do know – that we shall be like him.” To which we who live by faith and hope in darkness can add a quotation St. Paul created out of Isaiah 64:4, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
The gospel reading from John 10 is the well known parable of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The whole tone of John’s gospel breathes the divinity (the godness) of Jesus, his divine status as Son of God, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. John accomplished this by permeating his narra-tive with Old Testament background that proclaims various attributes of God. The principle is this: When attributes of God in the Old Testament are attributed also to Jesus in the New Testa-ment, it becomes a proclamation that Jesus is God. How does the parable of the Good Shepherd proclaim Jesus as God? The answer to this question is John’s catechesis in this gospel reading.
Here is some of the most important Old Testament background to John’s Good Shepherd para-ble. (John composes his gospel in the last decade of the first century of Christianity.) We turn to Ezekiel 34. The Lord commands Ezekiel to proclaim “against the shepherds of Israel.” Through-out the Old Testament the symbolic name “shepherd” was applied not only to God but to religious and civic rulers. Through the prophet, the Lord God accuses the shepherds of feeding themselves instead of feeding the sheep. “The weak you did not strengthen. The sick you did not heal. The crippled you did not bandage. The lost you did not seek. You ruled with force and harshness. They were scattered and wandered and became prey for wild beasts.” There is more of this in Ezekiel and other prophets, but this is sufficient to stimulate the conscience of anyone from parent to pope charged with the care of others, whether spiritual care or physical care.
Then the Lord says, “I will rescue my sheep from the mouths of the shepherds who feed on them. I myself will be the shepherd of the sheep!” When John therefore describes Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd,” he proclaims that Jesus is God. Such would be the catechesis for us from this parable. But John also has another agenda. The debate within Judaism about who and what Jesus was and is was still going on bitterly. Matthew 23 and John 7, 8, 9 bear witness to this bitter debate. By using Ezekiel 34 with its denunciation of wicked shepherds, as noted in the above paragraph, John is comparing those wicked shepherds to the religious leaders. In the parable brands them as “hirelings who are no shepherds.” They may not have deserved these insults, but the authors of our gospels did not lose their humanity and its prejudices when they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to convey the truths of revelation to humanity.