May 13, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Easter / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionReadings from the Acts of the Apostles frequently occur during the Easter season.

They clearly show life in general in the first Christian community. More particularly, they reveal the special place of the Apostles among the early Christians, and that St. Peter was the head of the Apostles.

So often, Peter speaks on behalf of the Apostles. Such is the case in this weekend’s first reading.

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

Humans have an option. They can accept Jesus as Lord. They can follow the Gospel. Or they can reject Jesus.

The author of Acts, traditionally believed to also have been the author of St. Luke’s Gospel, dates the sermon. It was preached on Pentecost, a Jewish holiday.

Jewish holidays celebrated God in relationship with people, and in particular with the Hebrew people. The holidays therefore celebrated the Covenant, and God’s constant and uninterrupted mercy.

In this case, the Jews recalled their special status as the people whom God protected and through whom God was revealed.

The First Epistle of St. Peter provides the second reading.

Jesus died on the cross to bring, forever and without qualification, God and humanity together. Individual persons affirm this reconciliation for themselves by freely accepting Jesus as the Lord and by living as the Lord’s true disciples and as children of God.

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

Especially in this country, the imagery may not be as immediately telling as in a rural society. However, at the time of Jesus in the Holy Land, everyone would have been familiar with shepherds and sheep.

The nature of sheep is important to the Scripture narrative. They are docile and quiet, often in peril from predators, such as wolves. They need their 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, but they can turn away from him.

The Gospel’s message is clear. All people are apt to wander and to be as vulnerable as sheep are without a shepherd to guide them 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—predators that sometimes succeed in tempting us to sin and actually rob us of our very lives.


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

Preparing us for this message, the Church frankly reminds us of who and what we are. We are as vulnerable as sheep. Predators lurk, waiting to assail us. The devil is the most vicious and crafty of these predators. Temptation draws us to death if we sin.

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

The essence of this weekend’s message is clear and simple. We need the Lord. Otherwise, we shall die.

Here, the Church’s final lesson reminds us that we can follow the Lord or we can go our own way. If we turn from Jesus, however, we walk into peril. †

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