Scripture notes – 4th Sunday of Easter, C – 8th May 2022

There is a double emphasis in today’s readings, one stressing that Jesus’ salvation is for all humankind. The second is the intimacy we have with Jesus and the Father when we accept Christ as our leader and brother.

The readings are available online here.

Acts 13:14, 43-52
Just before our reading begins, there is a short section about the church at Antioch when the community has been praying together. They heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for a work I have to do.’ ‘Sent by the Spirit’ they first went to Cyprus, and at that point our reading begins.

Perga and Pisidian Antioch are among the many places Luke will mention in Acts as he details Paul’s journeys around the Mediterranean – but are not names known today. Antioch in Pisidia was a major city, the capital of the Roman province of Syria, and third city of the empire; that area now is in Turkey. Our reading omits the address Paul first gives in the synagogue, but notes the result of that talk was that some who were converts to Judaism wanted to hear more, but most of the Jews opposed Paul and his words on Christ. The converts along with other Gentiles – spoken of as the ‘whole town’ – listened and many accepted the teaching. Here we see Paul’s usual missionary method laid out: to start with the Jews in whatever area he came to. Usually he would find them opposed to his teaching, and he would then move on to the pagans and set up a church among them. In this reading, the opposition continues to the point of getting the two missionaries expelled, but the new disciples in the city remain ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’

Psalm 99/100:1-3, 5
A short psalm of joyful praise, on the everlasting love of God which fits the previous selection with an emphasis on all peoples brought together in God. The middle verse points ahead to the shepherd theme of the Gospel.

Apocalypse/ Revelation 7:9, 14-17
This scene follows a description of ‘End Time’ with warnings of disasters on the earth, including war, famine and plague. But John is quick to say that God will spare those faithful to him, who will be gathered into His presence. He first lists those of the Twelve Tribes of Israel giving them a symbolic number, then more from the entire earth, ‘too many to be counted’. The palms they carry represent victory. Much of the imagery of this book is hard to imagine in a literal way, like the paradox of washing garments white in red blood. That can be understood as combining baptismal imagery (when the newly baptised were clothed in white) with salvation from the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood. It may also hint that some of this multitude had suffered martyrdom.

‘The Lamb’ is used frequently in this book as a representation of Christ, who had been called ‘the ‘Lamb of God’ by John the Baptist at the beginning of John’s Gospel. The ‘One on the throne’ is ‘God the Father’. As in last week’s reading, heaven is presented a court happily attending God and the Lamb. With the quick changes of imagery that is typical of both prophetic and apocalyptic writers, the Lamb becomes the shepherd, and heaven like a place of perfect pasturage. Images of food, water, comfort are piled up to show complete human happiness, suggesting something beyond our imagination.

John 10:27-30
From now till the Feast of the Ascension, we will have no more accounts of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples but instead selections from various parts of the Gospel of John that offer reflections on the meaning of Christ risen and with the Father but still present within the Church. Last week we heard Jesus commission Peter to ‘feed my sheep’ and today we pick up Chapter 10 in John’s Gospel which reflects on many aspects of Jesus as the perfect shepherd. In one of the shortest selections from the gospels we have at mass, the stress today in on the intimacy of Jesus which begins in this life, but will be shown fully in eternity.

The Jewish people traced their origins to the ‘Patriarchs’ – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel – who were pastoralists tending large flocks of sheep. In some ways, this simple life represented an ideal even in later times of more complex agriculture and city life. Imagery surrounding sheep and shepherds was widely used in a number of books in the Old Testament – our psalm in this mass is one example. Rulers, both religious and royal, were called shepherds. All of this would have been the common background of the listeners when Jesus talked about flocks, sheepfolds and sheep-gates, and how the shepherd relates to his animals.

The concluding words are about the greatness of ‘the Father’ and then the claim that Jesus in one with the Father. Lines such as these form the basis for later theology on the Trinity. The emphasis at the time when Jesus spoke was on giving comfort to the disciples, and assuring us of Jesus’ intimate relationship with all of us – just as the risen Jesus is close – ‘is one’ – with the Father. When we live in such troubled times as the present, they are reassurance for us now that Jesus will keep us safe in his love. Those now suffering a passion and death, will live in the joy of an eternal new life.

Joan Griffith