April 11, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Easter / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles reveals life in general in the first Christian community, but more in particular shows that Peter was the acknowledged leader of the Apostles.

In this reading, Peter preaches on Pentecost, an important Jewish feast. His sermon goes to the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus is Lord, the Savior. He came among humans as a human, but also as God’s own Son. He died. He rose. He reconciled humankind with Almighty God.

People have an option. They can accept Jesus as Lord and follow the Gospel or they can reject Jesus.

It is interesting that the author of Acts—who is also traditionally believed to have been the author of Luke’s Gospel—notes that the sermon was preached on Pentecost.

This reference is more than a nod to a Jewish holiday. Jewish holidays celebrated God, in relation with humans and in particular with the Hebrew people. The holidays celebrated the Covenant and God’s constant, uninterrupted mercy.

The First Epistle of Peter provides the second reading.

Jesus is the centerpiece of the reading. He died on the cross to bring—forever and without qualification—God and humanity back together.

People affirm this reconciliation for themselves by freely accepting Jesus as Lord and by living as the Lord’s true disciples and children of God.

St. John’s Gospel gives us the last reading, presenting a theme that was among the Lord’s favorites and always has been beloved by Christians—the theme of the Good Shepherd.

At the time of Jesus in the Holy Land, the images of shepherds and sheep would have been very meaningful since people saw sheep every day.

The nature of sheep is important. They are docile and quiet, often in peril from predators, such as wolves. They need the protection of shepherds. Also, young sheep, or lambs, were the preferred animals for sacrifice in the temple. The meat of lambs was ritually prepared for Passover. They were regarded as innocent.

Of course, sheep can wander. The shepherd does not tie them to himself. He leads them. They can turn away from him.

The Gospel’s message is clear. All humans are as vulnerable as sheep without a shepherd to guide and protect them.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, leading us to pastures rich with nutrition and away from the predators that prowl in search of us, the predators that by succeeding in tempting us to sin actually take our lives away from us.


Weeks have passed since Easter, but the Church still rejoices in the Risen Lord. He lives! Giving us the words once preached by Peter, the Church calls us to repent, to turn away from sin, and instead to turn to the only source of life, the Lord Jesus.

Preparing us for this message, the Church frankly reminds us who and what we are. We are as vulnerable as sheep. However, if we are in the Lord by true faith, we are as pure as lambs. Still, predators lurk, waiting to assail us.

Jesus is truly our Good Shepherd. He leads us. He guides us to the nourishment we need for spiritual health. He goes before us to the eternal fields of heaven.

But the essence of the message is clear and simple. We need the Lord. Otherwise, we shall die.

Here the Church’s final lesson appears. We can follow the Lord or we can go our own way. However, if we turn away from Jesus then we will walk into peril. †

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