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The Acts of the Apostles is again the source of an Easter season weekend’s first reading.
St. Peter, once more the spokesman for the Apostles, is filled with the Holy Spirit. He is not speaking on his own.
In the story, Peter restores a crippled person to wholeness, declaring that this miraculous event came not as the result of his own power or of any earthly power, but rather through the power of Jesus.
Peter makes it clear that Jesus, the source of Peter’s power, is indeed the Jesus who was crucified on Calvary, the Son of God, the Savior. Jesus is the cornerstone of eternal life itself, the single source of God’s favor and everlasting life.
The First Epistle of St. John provides the second reading.
These three epistles of this Apostle are alike and splendid in their deep message and superb use of language.
This reading declares true believers to be “children of God.” It is a powerful term. Through Jesus, and in Jesus, believers become much more than merely the creatures of God. They become God’s children.
The Scriptures have many titles and names for God. He is the Master, the Creator, the King and the Almighty. In this reading, God is the Father. The title conveys all that the relationship between a child and an earthly father suggests it would be.
The final reading is a passage from St. John’s Gospel in which Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd.
This title, occurring elsewhere in the New Testament, with many Old Testament echoes, offers lessons in itself.
In the Greek, the language of the Gospel, “good” means “ideal.” Jesus is the perfect shepherd. Thus, Jesus not only leads the sheep, but risks everything—even life itself—for the sheep. The image has overtones of the Lord’s sacrificial death on Calvary.
Another lesson is that we are sheep. Sheep are not aggressive. They are not predators. They easily are the prey of vicious enemies that capitalize on the sheep’s innocence and vulnerability. Thus it is with humans, who are exposed to the dangers of sin and meanness of sinful people.
The Lord protects us. He guarantees his care and mercy in our lives.
“Sheep not of this fold” refers not to dissenters or gentiles, but to people of future generations.
Finally, in the agrarian world of that day’s Israel, Jesus used images familiar to everyone, such as shepherds and sheep. He wanted all people to understand and know God—God’s mercy, God’s love and the potential of all to live in his love.
For weeks, the Church has celebrated the Resurrection. It still celebrates the Lord’s life this weekend.
In these readings, the Church reminds us that the Resurrection was not just a stupendous event that came and went long ago. Instead, it is with us now.
Peter brought people to God. He brought God’s life-giving power to them. His successors continue in this wondrous exchange.
Essential to eternal life itself is a contemporary, total and absolute commitment to God through the Lord Jesus.
As First John tells us in the second reading, in Jesus we become children of God, who is our loving Father.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd, ready to sacrifice earthly life itself so that we might live.
In our greatest limitation, we humans everlastingly ignore our own vulnerability and inflate our strengths. We are at the mercy of death-dealing and devious forces, some with human faces and some from within us. We must admit these facts.
We need the Lord. Jesus is our strong, loving and giving Good Shepherd. He leads us to eternal life. Without the Lord, we risk eternal death, helpless before our enemies. He alone guides us to peace and to eternal life. †