I want to thank Father Jim and the community here at Church of the Redeemer for inviting myself and Brother Jude to speak to you about today’s scripture readings.
Today’s readings all have great pastoral or blatant sheep imagery attached to them. It’s almost as if they were written by a New Zealander or Welshman.
In our first reading today, St. Peter raises a woman from the dead. It’s mentioned that as a result of his working of God’s power, many “believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). This was the same Peter who (this week) is fulfilling what Jesus thrice commanded Peter last week when he said to him, “Feed” and “Tend my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Those in Joppa saw the works of the Lord through Peter’s ministry and so believed.
Our second reading takes us to the heavenly vision of Saint John where all the choirs of heaven and earth and all the heavenly elders stand around in worship and praise of God. They cry out, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12). People from every tribe, race, nation, and tongue stand before the Lamb in adoration dressed in white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-11).
The Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 23, is one of the most well known in the English language, although probably not the version we heard here today.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Countless men, women, and children have memorized this short, but beloved, psalm over the centuries. If John 3:16 so concisely encapsulates the story and hope of all Christians, Psalm 23 so precisely captures the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding” that “guards our hearts and minds” as St. Paul talks about in his letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4, verse 7. And finally, we have today’s Gospel which is part of the larger series of shepherd and sheep imagery which Jesus uses throughout the 10th Chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.
In earlier portions of this chapter, Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep...Whoever enters by me will be saved” (10:7,9) and also, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me...And I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:14,15).
Jesus says to the Jews in Jerusalem, “I have told you and you do not believe...because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” (10:25-28).
Today’s Gospel is flowing with comfortable words. We are reminded of the undeniable truth that even though we are from time to time unfaithful or faithless, God remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:13).
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me,” says our Lord (John 10:27). Each of us is called individually by God to pick up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:25). We trust, that by following God, by heeding his commandments as they have been passed down to us, we will be lead along “right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).
But do we take time in our life to listen to the voice of the living God?
Do we put, at the very center of our lives, the desire to know and love God? Is God, in other words, our absolute, our supreme center or have we put other things, other people, other ideologies, other entities in His place?
Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “What my Father has given me is greater than all else” (10:29). Can we honestly say we believe what Christ says here? Do our actions reflect this belief?
For instance, when you came to Mass here this morning, did you remember to say a prayer of preparation or thanksgiving? Or did you immediately sit down in your pew without paying due reverence to the Our Lord’s presence in the tabernacle and instead immediately open your bulletin?
Did you start talking to your neighbor as soon as you sat down in your pew, not giving others or yourself the opportunity to prepare your heart and mind before Mass began?
Do you see the Mass, not as the Lord’s Supper—where the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ are made present on the altar—but as an opportunity to talk to others, to comment about others? Where times like the sign of peace act more and more as a liturgical halftime or meet-and-greet instead of the opportunity given to us by Holy Mother Church as a solemn time to make peace with our brothers and sisters before we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood?
Have you remembered to confess your sins and make an act of contrition each day, especially before you retire for bed?
Did you remember to observe rules of fasting and abstinence at the appropriate times of the week, during the liturgical year, and at least one hour before the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
Have you remembered to support the Church and this local parish by giving of your time, talent, and treasure in order to build up the Kingdom of God? Is preaching the Gospel—through our words and deeds—something that you engage in or do you rely on others to do it for you?
Do you fill your days with frequent prayer or with acts of thanksgiving or contrition so as to keep God always before your eyes, lest you be caught unaware and unprepared? (see Luke 21:34,35).
Do you resolve to be a better Christian man, woman, child, husband, wife, sister, brother today than you were yesterday? Jesus reminds us today there is nothing else greater than God. No other thing is to have equal weight with our relationship with God. Others, like spouses, children, brothers, sisters, family, friends, can and do help us see God in our everyday lives. But they are not God. We may love them more than life itself, but they are not a replacement for God.
We love our children, our parents, our friends, our family, our spouses because God has first loved us as the First Letter of John, Chapter 4, verse 19 reminds us. From this truth, all other aspects of our lives are connected. When the relationship between us and God is ruined, injured, or broken, then our other relationships suffer.
Saint Augustine writes, “The source of man’s love for God can only be found in the fact that God loved him first.” God, says St. Augustine, is both the source and object of our love. (Sermo 34, 1-3. 5-6: CCL 42, 424-426).
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” says the Lord (John 10:27).
The Gospel according to St. John reminds us we are all called to follow Jesus—the Good Shepherd, the one who offers and provides abundant life to those who call upon him. He is the One who seeks out the lost sheep and brings them unto himself, that we all may be one flock with one shepherd (see John 10:16).
Like Peter in today’s first reading, it is not we who act, but God’s power acting in us that brings the dead back home to life (see Act 9:41).
Some of us, in fact, perhaps all of us, have tried to follow Christ at one time in our life. Each of us has failed at one time or another. But the good news of our God is that each of us is called back by God so we may be drawn closer to Him. Again, the great St. Augustine writes,
“God offers us a short route to the possession of himself. He cries out:
Love me and you will have me for you would be unable to love me if you did not possess me already
(Sermo 34, 1-3. 5-6: CCL 42, 424-426).
We trust that, through the great ordeals we face, we will be washed in the blood of the Lamb, cleansed free from all our iniquities, our fears, our sins, our shortcomings, our misguided attempts at trying to make it through this mortal life.
If we remain steadfast in the faith, we will be able to enjoy forever the vision of our glorious Lord where we too will be able to “worship [God] day and night” (Revelation 7:14,15).
And I would be remiss if I did not draw upon my mother’s Baptist roots posing to you the questions found in that great hymn that asks its singers, “Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?”
“Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side? Do you rest each moment in the Crucified? When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright, and be washed in the blood of the Lamb?”
Today, trusting in the unfailing mercy of God, let us pray for a resolve to keep continually before our eyes the victory over sin and death won for us by Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us pray for ears to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd who knows us by name and calls each of us to new life in him. May we practice carefully listening to others, paying others the respect we would want from them when we come together in fellowship. And may we do our best to forgive those who trespass against us as we most heartily give thanks to God who forgives us and washes us in the blood of the Lamb.
Let us pray to our Most Holy Lady who, along with all the saints and angels, intercedes for us in our endeavour and who prays that we may be drawn ever closer to her beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Let us pray together: Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Church of the Redeemer
San Rafael, CA
Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23 Revelation 7:9-17 John 10:22-30
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.