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“Hear the Word!” by Bill Ayres: The Fourth Sunday of Easter


A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 13:14, 43-52)
 
What we read in the Acts of the Apostles implies that Paul and Barnabas were inspired speakers who had a powerful effect on their listeners. They started out preaching mainly to Jewish people and converts to Judaism, but at this point their message is being received more positively by the Gentiles. It must have been hard for Paul who, in his previous life as Saul, was a rabid persecutor of the new Christian community. Up to this point, most of the followers of Jesus were Jews. From now on, Paul will truly be the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is because of him more than any of the other apostles that Christianity spread all over the Mediterranean world and beyond. Without him, it may have only been one more sect within Judaism. From what we know of Paul, he could be difficult at times but always courageous and persevering in his mission.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5)
 
“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” What does it mean for you to be a part of God’s people? How does that change you?
 
A reading from the the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 7:9, 14b-17)
 
This book was written long after the death and resurrection of Jesus—around 95 AD. By this time, there were many thousands of believers, but they were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. It is hard for us, centuries later, to imagine how hard it was for people to be practicing Christians. By then, the Romans saw them as a major threat to the empire’s power and did everything they could to wipe Christians out. Some emperors were worse than others, but persecution was the order of the day. The author of the Book of Revelation wants to assure his readers and listeners that God is with them. Their suffering will end, and they will be rewarded.
 
We do not face anything like the vicious all powerful and pervasive force that was ancient Rome, although Christians in other parts of the world are subject to violent persecution even today. We do all suffer in many ways at numerous times in our lives. When you are in your deepest and most prolonged suffering, do you still believe in the healing, saving power of God’s unconditional love? Are you able to go back in time to other occasions of deep suffering and remember how you made it through? Remembering those past experiences can help you be conscious of, and rely on, the supportive Spirit within you.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 10:27-30)
 
The role of shepherd in the ancient world is something that we often romanticize today. In ancient times, shepherds were shadowy figures, often shunned in everyday society. Some were good and took care of their sheep, but others were not devoted or honest. A good shepherd was highly regarded, because he had to take care of a large herd often in dangerous and lonely conditions. Jesus knows all this when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. He knows that his audience will get it in a way that is more difficult for us today when we do not like to be thought of as sheep.
 
The last line of this passage is the most important. “The Father and I are one.” Remember that this Gospel is the last to be written, long after the death of Jesus and the writing of the other three Gospels. Why does John write such a powerful sentence? It is precisely because that is what people believed about Jesus these many years later. Jesus is not only the Messiah, not only the Son of God, but Jesus and the Father are one. Gradually, this level of belief developed into the central dogma of our faith, the Holy Trinity. It took centuries, but then something so extraordinary was not to be written on the back of a napkin.
 
We are truly created in the image and likeness of God, and God is a community of persons, not a solitary isolated being. We are communal persons as well, in our families, among our friends, and in our parish. We are not meant to be alone. It is not in our nature.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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