7 May 2017: Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 2:14a, 36-41  Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b4, 5, 6  1 Pt 2:20b-25  Jn 10:1-10

Shepherds: relationships and responsibilities

White_gold_banner_sm Throughout the Easter season, the Sunday readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings invite us to think about the resurrected Jesus as our caretaker and leader.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke recounts the results of Peter’s Pentecost speech (see last week’s first reading). The listeners ask Peter, “What should we do?” He tells them, “Metanoia (change your minds/hearts) and be baptized!”–the expected response to Jesus’ message. In Peter’s message, the listeners hear Jesus’ voice and respond to his invitation.

In the second reading from Peter’s first letter, the author advises the newly-baptized on how to live in an unbelieving world. Through baptism, the neophytes (new Christians) have returned to God, who, through Jesus, shepherds and guards them.

In John’s gospel, Jesus gives a powerful image of his care for God’s people: I AM the good shepherd. After Jesus’ rejection by the Pharisees in the previous chapter (Jn 9:1-41), he restates his identity (“I AM”) and his mission. Jesus’ shepherd image describes both a relationship and a responsibility:

  • Relationship. Jesus defines his relationship with God’s people. God, the gatekeeper, sends Jesus to shepherd God’s people. Jesus calls each person by name to discipleship so that everyone may have “life beyond measure.” That is, Jesus’ mission is to bring God’s messianic kingdom, in which all disciples will have eternal life. Jesus calls those who try to stop his mission (like the Pharisees in Jn 9:1-31) “thieves and robbers” because they keep God’s superabundant kingdom from appearing.
  • Responsibility. Jesus also defines a leader’s relationship and responsibilities to God’s people. God appoints human leaders to care for God’s people. Leaders are stewards and caretakers, not owners. Leaders who overstep their stewardship are “thieves and robbers” because they abuse God’s people and block God’s kingdom from coming. When God’s people hear Jesus’ voice (his words and actions) in a leader, they follow; if they do not hear Jesus’ voice in a leader, they run away.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event. Jesus reveals himself in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the Lord. We are God’s people, the flock he guides–not as mindless sheep, but as attentive disciples who listen for the shepherd’s voice. Can we hear Jesus call us by name? Are we helping to bring God’s kingdom, or are we blocking its arrival? Do we lead with Jesus’ service and care, or do we lead with human power and authority?

—Terence Sherlock

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