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Fourth Sunday Of Easter, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger

Fourth Sunday Of Easter, Year C

Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30


The first reading is part of Luke’s narrative of the first missionary journey of St. Paul, 46-48 A.D. The journey begins as the journey of Barnabas and Saul. Early in the journey they encounter a Roman proconsul named Sergius Paulus. After this encounter Luke refers to Saul as Paul. One wonders if Saul (a Hebrew name) at this time adopted the Roman name Paul, perhaps to honor the proconsul Sergius Paulus, or to fit more easily into the Roman cultural environment, or perhaps he bore a double name from the beginning, since he was also a Roman citizen. No one knows the answer to the name change, but Luke notes, “Saul, who is also called Paul . . . .” Paul with his mercurial personality and great learning, quickly becomes dominant, and the two missionaries are no longer known as Barnabas and Saul, but Paul and Barnabas. 

Our first reading locates them in what is today central Turkey, then the Roman province of Pisidia, in a city called Antioch. Jewish synagogues were found in most cities of the Roman Empire. As faithful Jews Paul and Barnabas attend synagogue on the Sabbath. Among those present were Gentile converts to Judaism. These were drawn to the two missionaries who spoke with them after services. Word spread quickly about the message proclaimed by the two. The following Sabbath the whole city gathered to hear them. Some fervent Jews became jealous. They verbally abused and contradicted Paul and Barnabas. This gives Luke, the author, an opportunity to spell out the platform for the Christian mission to the Gentiles. The wording is harsh and anything but ecumenical. Paul and Barnabas announce that it was necessary to address Jews first, but they rejected their message, so “now we turn to the Gentiles.” They cite Isaiah 49:6, out of context, as confirmation of their mission to the Gentiles. The Gentiles (Greeks, pagans) were delighted. There were many converts. Persecution against the two missionaries arose. “They shook the dust from their feet,” (a type of visual curse), and went to another city. The Responsorial Psalm, 100, is barely related to the first reading, unless one connects the joy expressed in the Psalm with the delight of the converted Gentiles in the first reading. Instead the Psalm picks up a theme of the gospel — God’s people as his flock of sheep. The People’s Response: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”


The second reading continues a series of readings from the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse).

The Christian prophet John is still wrapped up in the vision he experienced since the first chapter of the book. He sees a countless multitude. He notes that the multitude consisted of “every nation, race (color?), people, tongue (language).” The separation brought about by the arrogance of humanity in the story of the Tower of Babel was reversed in Christian theology by Pentecost. With God we are all one People of God. An elder present before the throne of God reveals to John that the countless multitude consists of those who survive the crisis of the end time by persevering in their faith during persecution. “They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb,” could be a reference to their baptism or even martyrdom. The elder continues his explanation to John. The multitude worships God (the One who sits upon the throne) endlessly. He will shelter them. In a reference to the suffering of Christians, “no more hunger, no thirst, no heat will strike them,” but the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd them, a theme of today’s gospel. Again we have a proclamation of the Lamb as God. The most consoling part, “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The Apocalypse is a response to persecution. 

The gospel reading takes place in the temple area called the Portico of Solomon. It was a columned area on the east side of the temple. It provided some shelter from the cold east winds of winter. John tells us it was winter and Hanukkah. In the author’s arrangement of material, Jesus had just proclaimed the parable of the Good Shepherd. Response to the parable by Jesus’ enemies: either he is out of his mind, or he has a demon. They taunt him to reveal that he is the Messiah (the Christ). Jesus replies that he already did that, but they did not believe “because you are not my sheep.” Here our gospel reading begins. There is a brief reference back to the parable of the Good Shepherd. In contrast to the mocking critics who are not his sheep, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” This is an indictment of his enemies, who neither listen to him nor follow him. John now excludes them from eternal life, as he attributes to Jesus these words about his sheep, “I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

God as pure spirit of course has no body parts, no hands. Biblically speaking the word “hand” is often a synonym for or symbol of power and/or protection. “No one can take them out of my powerful protection.” The author continues Jesus’ words, “My Father, who has given them to me . . . .” This recalls two earlier statements of Jesus, “All that the Father gives me will come to me,” and “This is the will of him who sent me, that I lose nothing of all that he has given mes” John 6:37, 39. John (Jesus) continues, “No one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” Jesus’ flock is not only under his own protection, but also under the protection of his Father. This assumption recalls Isaiah 43:13, “I am God. I AM. There is none who can deliver from my hand. I work, and who can hinder it?” So the hand of God and the hand of Jesus are the same. Conclusion: the Gospel of John once more proclaims the equality of Father and Son. This is why John attributes to Jesus a closing statement, not as our translation reads, “The Father and I are one,” but “I and the Father are one.”