Liturgical readings for Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th of Easter
Saint Paul’s Bible Group
On this Good Shepherd Sunday the readings talk about us. God’s people, those who are predestined, called, believers, faithful … the sheep of God’s flock.
FIRST READING Acts of the Apostles 13:14. 43-52
Paul and Barnabas carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the sabbath and took their seats.
When the meeting broke up many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas and in their talks with them Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the grace God had given them.
The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said:
“I have made you a light for the nations,
so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”
It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.
But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
*This passage is part of Ss. Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey and their preaching is well received by many Jews and devout converts in the Synagogue.
Antioch in Pisidia: This is not the ancient Antioch in Syria where the followers of Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), but rather a smaller city in modern day Turkey with the same name.
Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies: Notice that it was jealousy and not religious zeal which caused these Jews to blaspheme, in other words, their focus was their own glory, not God’s.
Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly: This reminds us when St. Peter stood up and raised his voice in Pentecost (Acts 2:14), evincing to the action of the Holy Spirit.
You do not think yourselves worthy: St. Paul does not point to their lack of faith but rather to their self-esteem, a peculiar accusation made on those who should have been the first to become Christians.
All who were destined for eternal life became believers: God does not arbitrarily decide who is saved or condemned; He does not predestine anyone to hell. Nor does predestination take away our freedom; in fact predestination is God’s foreknowledge of our free positive response to his grace (cf. CCC 600).
Responsorial Psalm Ps 99
Response: We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
- Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing for joy. Response
- Know that he, the Lord, is God.
He made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the sheep of his flock. Response
- Indeed, how good is the Lord,
eternal his merciful love.
He is faithful from age to age. Response
Come before him, singing for joy: An invitation for the people of God to come into the temple and for the whole earth to rejoice in the presence of the Lord.
He made us, we belong to him: Doesn’t the created thing belong to its creator? It is only just that the whole universe should give glory to God.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock: Politically incorrect, but God does seem to have favourites. St. Thomas Aquinas even compares God’s role in the life of his people with an archer who directs an arrow (ST1 Q23). At any rate, it remains a mystery, i.e., it surpasses our understanding because He does not wish anyone to be lost, but that all know the truth and be saved (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pt 3:9).
He is faithful from age to age: By Christ’s life, death and resurrection, God’s faithfulness to his promises in the Old Testament is attested in the New.
SECOND READING Apocalypse 7:9.14-17
I, John saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and because they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary; and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
A huge number, impossible to count: This passage is much more comforting than, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life,” (Mt 7:14) however, when we think about it, there is not necessarily any contradiction between these.
White robes and palms: The first, a symbol of their having being purified in the blood of the Lamb, the second a symbol of their victory. These are the two key elements in anyone’s salvation: The sacrifice of Christ, and our cooperation with God’s grace.
The great persecution: Throughout Church history, Christians have never ceased to be persecuted somewhere, somehow.
Serve him day and night in his sanctuary: It is only through God’s grace that service in this life can be enjoyable, however, in the next; it will be a delight to serve Him, for that is what we were made for.
Will spread his tent over them: This language reminds us of the days in the desert when the Tabernacle of God’s presence was kept in a tent (Exo 40:34). In heaven, God’s presence is spread all over.
They will never hunger or thirst again: All of our physical and spiritual needs will be met, this is total fulfillment of the human vocation in perfect peace and joy.
Springs of living water: This water of life makes us wonder if life in heaven depends on water just as it does here on earth, and it reminds us of the life giving water which was poured from the pierced side of Christ as St. John tells us to have witnessed with his own eyes (Jn 18:31-37).
Gospel Acclamation Jn 10: 14
I am the good shepherd;
I know my own and my own know me
GOSPEL John 10:27-30
‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice: To listen to him means to keep his commandments. It is implied here that some will be lost, but not those for whom He had bought eternal life, at the price of His blood, those who follow him.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone: It turns out that the translation of this line is somewhat disputed, some say that it can also be: “As for the Father, what he has given me is greater than all.” If this is correct, Christ is talking about how much He cares about us, his sheep.
The Father and I are one: A few verses earlier, the Jews are asking Jesus to say plainly if He is the Christ. Our Lord didn’t only claim to be the Messiah, but even oneness with the Father! Hence the unbelieving Jews became so angry. The evangelist also tells us that this happened during winter, this was the winter before our Lord’s Passion during the next spring.