4th Sunday of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday - April 21, 2024

4th Sunday of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday - April 21, 2024

Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

 

Theme: “I am the Good Shepherd”

Our Gospel passage today comes from the “Good Shepherd” discourse (John 10:1-21) in the Gospel according to John. The context of this discourse is found in the story of the healing of the man born blind on a Sabbath (John 9:1-41), which comes immediately before the discourse of the “Good Shepherd.” The Pharisees did not believe that the man healed by Jesus was born blind. They did not want the crowd to know that this man was born blind because his healing would make the people believe in Jesus as the true Messiah. They tried to force the man’s parents to testify that their son was not born blind and the blind man to say publicly that Jesus was a sinner. The parents confirmed that the blindness of their son was from birth, but they did not give further details because they were afraid to be excommunicated by the Pharisees. They excommunicated this blind man because he did not testify that Jesus was a sinner. Jesus came to meet with him after being excommunicated. The man professed his faith in Jesus and worshiped him. This story ended with Jesus saying that he had come into the world for judgment so that those who do not see might see, and those who see might become blind. Some Pharisees who heard him refused to admit they were spiritually blind. Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” (John 9:41.)

After this episode of the healing of the man born blind comes the discourse of the “Good Shepherd.” It continues the theme of Jesus addressing the Pharisees' spiritual blindness that ends John 9. Its form is symbolic. The lectionary omitted vv. 1-10 and 19-21.

It is necessary to analyze vv. 1-10 to comprehend our text better. Jesus commences by addressing the difference between the Pharisees, whom he identifies as the thieves and robbers, and himself, the Good Shepherd and Gatekeeper of the sheep. The sheep represent the people of God, symbolized by the blind man. The thief and robber (the Pharisees) do not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climb over elsewhere (v. 1). The sheep do not follow and listen to them because they do not recognize their voices (vv. 5, 8). Their mission is to steal, slaughter, and destroy (v. 10a) This alludes to when the Pharisees forced the blind man to bear false testimony against Jesus, saying that Jesus was a sinner, but the blind man refused to obey them (see 9: 24-34.) Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He does not climb elsewhere but enters through the gate. He calls each sheep by name, and they hear his voice. He leads them out and walks ahead; they recognize and follow him. Jesus is also the Gatekeeper. He lets the sheep enter and go out through him safely (vv. 7, 9). This refers to how the blind man listened and believed in Jesus (see 9:7, 35-38). Here, Jesus taught the Pharisees that they had failed to believe in him, but God’s people, symbolized by the blind man, believed in him.

Our Gospel passage picks up from v. 11 and ends in v. 18. Here, Jesus continues to develop his theme of “Good Shepherd” with other details. These details include laying down his life for the sheep, knowing his sheep and his sheep knowing him, and his mission of bringing other sheep from another fold to make just one flock, one Shepherd.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. “Laying down his life” alludes to Jesus’ death on the cross for the salvation of God’s people. Unlike the hired man (who stands for the Pharisees) who leaves the sheep and runs away when he sees a wolf coming, Jesus accepts to die on our behalf because he has a great love for us. This detail joins what Peter says in our first reading and teaches us that Jesus is our savior. People in Peter’s day revered their emperor as “savior” and “god” as they were told that salvation was attributed to the emperor. In our first reading passage, Peter clarified, "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.” (Acts 4: 12, NABRE.)  We have eternal life through Jesus alone, our good Shepherd, who laid his life on the cross for us. We, too, as his followers, let us be the “Good Shepherds” for one another. We all, parents, children, schoolteachers, nurses, laity, and ordained ministers, are called to “lay down our lives” for the people God put in our ways so that they might be spiritually, physically, intellectually, morally, and psychologically healthy. We can do this only when we consider our works (jobs) and ministries as apostolate even though we get paid (vv. 12-13). This means we should do them with great love.  

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. Jesus knows each of us personally. We, as his “sheep,” which means “God’s people,” are called also to get to know him personally. Notice that he compares the knowledge between him and us to the knowledge between him and God. “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine, and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” (vv. 14-15a). Jesus and his Father God are One. They know each other perfectly. He wants to establish This kind of relationship between him and us. To come to know Jesus, we need to observe some spiritual practices. First, prayer, especially the Eucharistic celebration, is the best resource to come to know Jesus. At Mass, we become one with Jesus in the way he is One with his Father as we listen to him through the Scripture readings and homilies and receive his Body and Blood in the Holy Communion. Second, to know Jesus, we should become familiar with reading the Bible. God created us and instilled in us the desire to know him. He then inspired the human authors of the Bible to write down what he wanted his people to know about him. The Bible is God’s self-revelation. Therefore, the more we read the Bible, the more we know who God is. Our Holy Mother Church encourages us to attend Bible Study programs to become familiar with reading the Bible. I teach one, the Liturgical Weekly Bible Study, every Friday at 6: 00 p.m. USA central time in person and virtually via Zoom (Meeting ID: 836 4516 5259. Password: Bible. Or email me to ussbiblicalapostolate@gmail.com). Third, we also know Jesus when we help and serve our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and marginalized. Jesus said one day, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40, NABRE.) This part of the Gospel teaches us that we are Jesus’ sheep, so we should know him personally as he knows each of us.

  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who brings other sheep from another fold to make just one flock, one Shepherd (v. 16). Jesus does not limit his mission to the chosen people but extends it to non-Jews. The “other sheep from another fold” allude to the Gentiles and sinners of Mark’s time. In our time, too, we have the “other sheep from another fold” who still need to hear Jesus’ voice. Today, we celebrate the Sunday of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Our Holy Mother Church reminds us that she needs men and women to respond to God’s call to become priests, religious brothers and sisters, and deacons to continue Jesus’ mission of bringing “other sheep from another fold” to listen to Jesus’ voice. Priests, parents, schoolteachers, and catechists should help and accompany young men and women to discern their vocations to the priesthood and religious lives.  

May the liturgy of this Mass enable us to become the sheep who hear the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, know him, and follow him wherever he leads us. We pray also that this Mass might transform us into “good shepherds” capable of sacrificing ourselves for the salvation of our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

 

3rd Sunday of Easter. April 14, 2024

 3rd Sunday of Easter. April 14, 2024

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48

 

Theme: We Are Called to Recognize the Risen Lord, Repent, and Keep His Commandments

Last Sunday, we heard the story of Jesus's double appearances to his disciples (the first without Thomas and the second with Thomas) in the account of Saint John. John told us that the disciples locked themselves in for fear of the Jews, whom they thought were looking to execute them as they did to their master, Jesus. Amid their fear, Jesus appeared to them. He wished them peace, filled them with the Holy Spirit through his breath, and sent them on a mission to forgive or retain the people's sins. Thomas, who missed the first appearance, requested physical proof to believe that Jesus was alive. Then, a week later, Jesus again appeared to them. He invited Thomas to touch the marks of his wounds. Then, Jesus exhorted him and all of us to believe in his resurrection even though we had not seen him physically. Through that Gospel, our Holy Mother Church taught us that Jesus continues to appear to each of us today amid our fears of this life. He wishes us peace, gives us the Holy Spirit, and sends us on a mission. Jesus empowered the Church, through the ordained priests, to forgive or retain our sins.

Today’s liturgy also talks about Jesus’ appearance to his disciples and all of us. Amid our fear, Jesus wishes us peace; He proves to us, through physical details and Scripture interpretation, that he has genuinely resurrected from the dead; he promises us the Holy Spirit (Luke 24: 49, the verse that the lectionary has omitted), and sends us on a mission to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Our first and second readings report how Peter and other disciples preached repentance to their people. Let us also preach repentance to our brothers and sisters wherever we live.

Before we analyze our Gospel, let us first know its historical and literary contexts, form, movement, and structure. Note that the four Gospels reflect two different traditions in their accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples. Matthew and Mark point to Jesus’ appearances in Galilee, while Luke and John focus on appearances in Jerusalem and its environs. So, in our text, Luke reports that Jesus appeared to all his disciples in Jerusalem. Our Gospel is taken from chapter 24, the Resurrection narrative (24:1-53). It is immediately preceded by two stories, namely “The Women at the Empty Tomb” (24:1-12) and Jesus’s Appearance to the two Disciples of Emmaus (24:13-35). It is immediately followed by the last story about Jesus’ Ascension (24:50-53), which concludes the Resurrection narrative and the whole Gospel.

Our text is the resurrection narrative. V. 35, which normally belongs to the previous story (Jesus’ appearance to the Two Disciples of Emmaus), introduces our text, and v. 48 (with v. 49 that the lectionary has omitted) concludes it. The body of the text has two parts. Jesus uses physical details in the first part (vv. 36-43) and Scripture interpretation in the second part (vv. 44-47) to prove his resurrection.

Our pericope begins where the previous story, Jesus’ appearance to Emmaus’ disciples, left off. These two disciples experienced the resurrected Jesus on the road of Emmaus. Note that their stay in Jerusalem was because they followed Jesus. When Jesus died, there was no more reason to stay in Jerusalem. Disappointed, they decided to go back home to Emmaus. On the road, they experienced the resurrected Jesus who appeared to them. They recognized him through the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread that he shared with them. As a result, these two disciples returned to Jerusalem and rejoined their fellow disciples. They shared how Jesus appeared to them on the road of Emmaus. While they were still speaking, Jesus himself stood in their midst. Our Gospel story picks up here.

 In the Gospel passage we just heard, Luke tells us that the disciples were startled and frightened (v.37) but also amazed and filled with joy (v.41) when Jesus appeared to them. Jesus wished them peace because they were terrified, thinking they were dealing with a ghost. To prove to them that he was not a ghost but had resurrected from the dead, Jesus used two methods: physical details and Scripture interpretation. In the first method, Jesus invited them to see and touch the nail marks on his hands and feet; he also asked for a piece of baked fish and ate it in front of them. In the second method, Jesus interpreted the Scripture and opened their minds to understand that everything written in the Books of Law of Moses, Prophets, and Psalms about him must be fulfilled. The things that the Scripture wrote about him that must be fulfilled include, on the one hand, his Passion, Death, and resurrection that he fulfilled, and, on the other hand, repentance for the forgiveness of sins that the disciples must preach to fulfill. The story concludes with Jesus telling his disciples that they were the witnesses of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The v. 49 that the lectionary has omitted speaks of the Holy Spirit. Jesus asked them to stay in Jerusalem and not start the mission until they received the Holy Spirit.

Our Holy Mother Church wants to teach us the following lessons by suggesting this Gospel reading today. First, Jesus wished his disciples “peace be with you” as they were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Jesus wishes us peace because he knows how we are frightened by the uncertainty of this world. Let us hear the voice of our Resurrected Lord sounding to our ears, “Peace be with you.” Let us feel this peace in our hearts and minds right now. This is the peace of resurrection. It dispels all anxieties and fears that force us to believe that Jesus is not alive and that everything looks dark. Jesus’ peace resurrects the faith, hope, courage, joy, and enthusiasm of being good Christians that we lost. Jesus always stands in our midst and wishes us peace.

Second, Jesus used two methods, the physical details and Scripture interpretation, to help his disciples recognize him. In the first method, Jesus did two things. First, he invited his disciples to see and touch the nail marks on his hands and feet as evidence that he was not a ghost but had resurrected from the dead. Here, Jesus wants us to recognize him through all people who suffer and need our help. He invites us to see and touch their hands and feet, meaning to help them. When we “see and touch the hands and feet” of our fellow humans who suffer, we do it to Jesus. Jesus identifies himself through the sick, lowly, and marginalized. Second, Jesus asked for a piece of baked fish and ate it before his disciples as further evidence of his resurrection. He continues to do it at each Mass we attend. He shares with us the Eucharistic meal when we eat his Body and drink his Blood in the Holy Communion. So, to believe that Jesus is alive, we need to see and touch him through our brothers and sisters who need our help and attend Masses (especially on Sundays) when he shares the Eucharistic meal with us.

Besides the physical details, Jesus also employed Scripture interpretation to help his disciples believe in his resurrection. He continues to interpret the Scriptures to us until today. We listen to him through the Scripture readings and homilies proclaimed at each Mass we attend. We listen to him interpreting the Scriptures in the Liturgical Weekly Bible Study I teach every Friday at 6:00 p.m. in person and virtually (here is the Zoom ID: Meeting ID: 836 4516 5259 and the password: Bible.) We listen to him when we read the Bible at home, meditate on it, and share it with our family members and friends. Our Holy Mother Church encourages us to read the Bible frequently and attend Bible Study classes because we recognize our Lord Jesus through the Scriptures.

Jesus said that everything written in the Books of Moses' Law, Prophets, and Psalms about him must be fulfilled. These include his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which he fulfilled, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins that his disciples must preach to fulfill. He revealed to his disciples that they were the witnesses of his Passion, Death, and resurrection. You and I are Jesus’ disciples and witnesses of our time. Our baptismal mission is to reach out to our fellow humans and preach to them repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In our first reading, we saw Peter and other disciples preaching Jesus’ resurrection to the Jews (Acts 3:13-15) and calling them to repentance and conversion (Acts 3:17-19). The sacred author of our second reading also preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins to his contemporaries. He tells them and us today that the purpose of the message he wrote is that we may not commit sin. But in case we sin, he lets us know that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one, who is expiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world. He calls us to keep Jesus’ commandments as evidence that we know him, and we are in union with him because we cannot say that we know Jesus and we are in union with him if we do not keep his commandments (1 John 2:1-5a). On the one hand, we are called to repent and keep Jesus’ commandments. On the other hand, we are commissioned to reach out to our fellow humans and preach to them repentance for the forgiveness of their sins and invite them to keep Jesus’ commandments.   

May this liturgy of Mass enable us to recognize our risen Lord, repent, and keep his commandments. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD 

4th Sunday of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday - April 21, 2024

4 th Sunday of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday - April 21, 2024 Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18   Theme: “I am the Good Shepherd” ...