Sunday, April 17, 2016

4th Sunday of Easter: The Flock He Tends

Today's readings touch upon God's flock and how God wants all to hear the word, listen to the word and be saved. The Pope's visit to the island of Lesbos in Greek can be used to visualize the readings in today's context.

The first reading tells us of Paul and Barnabas who are evangelizing. They speak to the Jews and those who became Jews. They stress to the Jews to remain faithful to God's grace. However, others came to listen to them, namely the Gentiles or non-Jews.  The Jews present were jealous and angry at both Paul and Barnabas. How many times do our own fellow Catholics get jealous of us because we may be taking on a ministry in the Church and succeeding?  Fallen human nature is always a thorn at the side, so to speak. Anyhow, Both Paul and Barnabas begin to preach to the Gentiles because the Jews present did not want to hear of salvation and eternal life in Christ Jesus.  They quoted and fulfilled the verse that says, "I have made you a light to the Gentiles,that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth” which comes from Isaiah 49:6. While God did choose a "people" as His own, the Jews. He did not leave everyone else out. The Jews would be the first to "taste the goodness of the Lord," (Psalm 34:8) but the rest of the world will soon follow. On Saturday, Pope Francis visited a refugee camp and brought three families with him back to Rome. These families are Muslim! Our Holy Father is reminding us to be like Paul and Barnabas, but above all, like Christ who came to all and to serve not be served.  We are all God's people, the sheep of His flock as the responsorial Psalm reminds us today.

We must sing joyfully to the Lord. This includes all peoples, all lands (Psalm 117:1)!  We must serve the Lord with gladness, not bitterness or out of obligation (Psalm 84:1-2). God is our Father (Mark 14:36). God cares for us for we are His people, His flock that He tends.  God is good all of the time; all of the time God is good!  He keeps us in existence, though we do not deserve it due to our sins. This shows how merciful God is.

In the second reading, we read from the mysterious book of Revelations. The Apostle John is on the island of Patmos, Greece and sees the visions while there.  He writes them using apocalyptic language or a genre that uses hyperbole, vivid imagery and symbolism to convey messages. Our reading describes angels, seals, a great multitude, the Lamb, elders and so on.  These images are symbols of heaven.  Furthermore, as we continue reading, the Scripture tells us of a great multitude that no one could count. This multitude comes from every nation, race, people, and tongue.  Who do you think these people represent?  If you guessed the Catholic Church, then you are correct. This verse is referring to the Church (Militant, Triumphant, and Suffering) composed of her saints living and deceased. These are the "Catholic" people or the universal people who come from all over the globe (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, CCC 830-831). The Church is not a "White," "Black," "Latino," "Red," "Brown," or "Asian" Church.  Christ's Church is a "Catholic" Church open to all from every walk of life, every nation, every gender, every age etc. The white robes represent our cleanliness, the robe of salvation which we received at baptism and tried hard throughout life to keep it spotless via the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist or the "Blood of the Lamb" (Isaiah 61:10, Revelation 7:14). The palm branches represent Palm Sunday demonstrating that we are triumphant in Jesus Christ. We raise our branches and shouted, "Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb" (John 12:13). Who is this "Lamb?"  Jesus of course!  Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world; sound familiar (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19)? Next, we read of the angels and elders who prostrated themselves before the throne. These elders represent the saints and the apostles who pray for us before the Lamb (Revelations 5:8).  We must fight the good fight in order to be part of this multitude by longing to see God's face (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7).

Finally in the Gospel, we read Jesus' words about the sheep hearing His voice. He knows them and they will follow Him. He gives them eternal life and no one can snatch them away from Him.  Jesus also confirms that He and the Father are One. Two distinct persons along with the third, the Holy Spirit, but one God. God's flock is not just the Jews or Catholics, but all of humanity. Jesus said there are other sheep that are not in His main flock (John 10:16).  These too will hear His voice and come to Him. This is why we must evangelize (Mark 16:15). We must spread the Word of God not only with words, but with action. As the cliche goes, "actions speak louder than words" so too, do our Christian acts in the world speak loudly. We see this in Pope Francis who has made it a priority to preach the Gospel via action via his call to mercy.  We as Catholics have the fullness of truth, but we must not become prideful and fall into triumphalism thinking that we are better than others of different faiths or no faith (Philippians 2:3). Humility is key (Ephesians 4:2). We must be cunning like the serpent yes, but gentle like a dove when presenting the faith to others (Matthew 10:16).  Let us pray to the Good Shepherd to call all sheep back to one flock.  May Jesus Christ be praised!


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