4th Sunday of Easter
April 21, 2024

The First Reading

Acts 4:8-12

In this week's reading from Acts, Luke provides us with yet another story which serves as proof that Jesus rose from the dead. How? Remember when Jesus was taken into custody and questioned by the Sanhedrin? Peter stood outside and was confronted three times by those gathered outside with him. He denied Jesus three times out of fear of having to face the authorities himself. In this Scripture passage he stands before those very same authorities, proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, resurrected from the dead. There is no denial to be found here. What a radical change! That is the effect that the resurrection of Jesus and the Holy Spirit had on the apostles, and they weren’t about to waste it either. The apostles spread the “Good News” with a sense of urgency, not just due to the fact that they believed Jesus’ return to be imminent, but also because they realized that they had been given a second chance after having failed Christ when they abandoned him during his hour of need. Redemption is a powerful motivator indeed.

Take a moment to consider what motivates you in your relationship with God? What drives you to be faithful? What is it about your relationship with Christ Jesus that compels you to want to share it with others?

Luke also demonstrates that the apostles were still combating the same conflicts that Jesus experienced during the course of his own ministry, as they continued to spread the Good News. Peter charge that Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders parallels the same criticism leveled by Jesus against the Jewish authorities in the Gospels. There's a hardness of hearts that the Lord wants to break through, but that a person must feely choose to accept.

Peter’s final statement is perhaps the most profound, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” We must read this in context. Taken out of context, people often interpret it as Jesus being the only means of salvation, and that those who do not accept Christ are damned. In context, what Peter is declaring is that the salvation won for us through Christ's Pascal Mystery is for everyone. Yes, salvation comes through Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus is the source and means of salvation for all people. However, the Church also emphatically recongnizes the mercy of God which was extolled through the divine person, Jesus, in that an all loving and merciful God would never create anyone without hope of being redeemed. Therefore, as paragraph 1260 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, God has a plan for the salvation of those who through no fault of their own do not come to know Christ in this lifetime. What the Church doesn't do is make any attempt to define what that plan is, but knowing that God is love and that his mercy endures forever, the Church is able to readily and accurately surmise that such a plan must exist, even though said plan has not be explicitly revealed.

The Second Reading

1 John 3:1-2

For a reading that only contains two verses, the message sure pacts one powerful punch. John in his typical eloquent simplicity reveals the power of God’s love for humanity. God not only gives us life but also claims us as his own. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we too will come to share in his resurrection. When we do, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

It is interesting to note that John would make use of the word “we shall be like him.” For if you recall the story of creation and the fall of humanity, the serpent entices Eve to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree with the words, “you will not die, you will become like gods.” It was our very desire to become god-like that resulted in our fall from grace. Ironically, created in God's image and likeness, we've been destined from the dawn of creation to be like God, but that transformation occurs through the power of God's infinite love for us, not our own initiative. That's where Adam and Eve went astray.

John demonstrates that we will indeed become like Jesus when we share fully in his resurrection upon his return at the final hour. God, through the Church, is preparing us for this final transformation by helping us to conform our hearts, minds, and very beings to Christ Jesus. In baptism, we are cloaked in the mantle of Christ and become living temples of Holy Spirit. In confirmation we are conformed more fully into the image of Christ Jesus, and in Holy Eucharist we are made holy and provided with an opportunity through the grace of that incredible sacrament to become who we eat. Our becoming like Jesus will only be achieved through God’s initiative, not ours, but we do need to participate because all of this unfolds in the context of a personal relationship with the Lord. Sadly, in looking at the state of the world today, especially in Western society, we find ourselves living in a culture where we are making ourselves into gods by redefining Almighty God in such a way that we are recrafting him in our image, so that we can justify living the life we desire to live rather than the life God has called us to live. This is an abuse of our freedom, and sadly, it creates a hardness in our hearts that places sin over God. We become our own obstacle to salvation as we love God for who we make him out to be, rather than for who he actually is. If we don't get God right, then we can't get us right because our identity and purpose are firmly rooted in God. So, let God do the work in you that he desires. You are merely the clay and he alone is the potter. Allow him to craft you into the saint your were created to be and you will indeed set the world on fire with God's love.

Gospel Reading

John 10:11-18

Many scholars believe that this particular story from John is the blending of two separate parables told by Jesus that somehow became intertwined during the early oral tradition of the Gospel. The message is one that depicts the level of commitment and intimacy in the relationship offered us by God. One cannot dispute the fact that Jesus knew the Father intimately, but what we sometimes fail to comprehend is the fact that Jesus expects the same level of intimacy from us. “I am the good shepherd and I know my mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Wow! As if that weren’t enough Jesus goes on to further demonstrate the depth of his love for us by stating that he would lay down his life for his sheep. Many of us state that we would die for those we love, be it a child, a spouse, family or friend. The difference is two-fold. First, most of us never have to prove the depth our love by dying for love of someone. Second, such love rarely extends beyond those that love us in return. Would you die for love of the homeless man on the street corner? Would you die for love of the forgotten elderly widow on your street? Would you be willing to die or the convicted criminal? How about the terrorist? The answer for most of us is "not likely." Yet, that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus, on the other hand, proved his love for us by dying on the cross for love of the world. His actions matched his words. Do yours?

There's a cost to discipleship. In the early Church, that cost included the treat of persecution and death. While that threat certainly exists in some parts of our world today, most of us will not likely experience such a treat, but there is still a cost. To follow in Christ's footsteps, to abide in him and allow him to abide in you, to listen to his voice, is costly. At the very least, there is a cost of time, at most there is always some sacrifice involved, because to live like Christ Jesus is to love as he loved and to live in the image and likeness of God who is Love. True love, biblical love, always, always, always, involves sacrifice, because the love we are called to involves a) submitting our will to God will, and b) to place the good of another, even if it is a complete stranger, over and above our own. What stands in the way of your being able to love like Jesus? What is it that gets in the way? What steps can you take to remove such obstacles in order to truly love with a love like Christ; a love that will allow you to lay your life down for another, even if it is only in the form of a sacrifical act?

In Jesus’ time shepherds would gather their sheep at night and corral them into a pen made from stones or brambles. Sometimes a cave would even be used. The shepherds would then appoint one of their numbers to stand watch for the night. That shepherd would lay down at the gate of the pen or cave to prevent thieves or predators from gaining access to the sheep. He would defend the sheep with his life. Jesus' use of such an example would not have been inconsequential for his audience. They would have grasped the implications of his teachings with ease. Today, we struggle to relate.

Ironically, Jesus is not only the shepherd, but also the gate. Jesus knows us by name and calls us by name through the sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is the gateway to our relationship with Jesus. As a result, we are called to be shepherds to one another. We serve as shepherds to our children. We are called to shepherd those in need. We are challenged to shepherd the ignorant and the doubtful. It is not enough to know Jesus, we must come to know each other too, and by “other” we are talking about all people, not just our inner circle of friends and family, or the people and groups we like. In what ways do you shepherd others? Where are you leading your children, your spouse, your friends, and neighbors? Is to eternal life and the love of God or somewhere else?

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