FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 25, 2021
ACTS 4:8-12 1 JOHN 3:1-2 JOHN 10:11-18
For three weeks the Sunday gospels have been focusing on accounts of the resurrection. This week and next week they direct our thinking to the Church’s relationship with the risen Lord. This week we’re given the image of Jesus as our shepherd. He tells us, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What’s he telling us?
Let’s start with the first word of the title. Jesus tells us that he’s THE good shepherd. He’s presenting himself as a model for all shepherds. He then gives an example of a bad shepherd. “A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away.” The shepherd must be bold and brave in the face of danger. As Jesus goes on to explain; the good shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep.
Jesus calls himself “GOOD.” The Greek word he uses for “good” carries with it the quality of humble nobility. Here’s an example of a “good” doctor who was more than proficient in his craft. I grew up in a small, railroad apartment where physical quarantine was almost impossible. When my sister came down with measles, our family doctor asked my parents if I could join him and his family at their home in the Rockaways to keep me isolated until she was over her illness. He was a “good” doctor. He cared for my sister, me and my parents all at the same time. He gladly went the extra mile. Jesus is saying he’s the GOOD shepherd – he’s willing to go the extra mile for each and every one of his sheep.
We’re unfamiliar with shepherds. So, we have to ask what shepherds do? The first thing shepherds do is to guide the sheep, day after day, to places where they can graze. They must also keep watch over them, being careful to never let a sheep go astray from the flock.
The flock was in most danger during the night. In Jesus’ day, scattered throughout the pastures, there were walled-in communal pens. At night, shepherds gathered their flocks in the safety of these pens. This also afforded an opportunity for the shepherds, whose lives were isolated and lonely, an opportunity to have some social contact with their fellow shepherds. But the interesting thing about these communal pens was that they didn’t have doors. They just had an opening. The shepherd himself was the door. He would sleep in the open doorway. If a wolf or another wild animal tried to attack the sheep, it would have to walk over the shepherd. That’s why Jesus adds, “I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus is holding himself up as THE model for anyone in a leadership position. Priests and ministers are called shepherds. Do they go the extra mile? Do they feed their sheep? Are they willing to lay down their lives for the sheep? Mothers and fathers are shepherds. Teachers are shepherds. Political leaders are shepherds. How do we fare when we compare ourselves to THE GOOD SHEPHERD? To what extent do our lives give good example to young people in the process of becoming shepherds themselves?
Every one of us has something deeply serious to think about today.
- Published in Church Reflections
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 18, 2021
ACTS 3:13-15,17-18 1 JOHN 2:1-5A LUKE 24:35-48
On Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene reported to the disciples, who were “mourning and weeping,” that she had seen the risen Lord. But they didn’t believe her. Later that night, two disciples excitedly reported to the group that they had met Jesus along the road as they were fleeing the city. They said that he instructed them and ate with them. The group didn’t believe them either. But while they were still relating the event, Jesus “stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
He immediately asked the group two questions. “Why are you troubled?” and “Why do questions arise in your hearts?”
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t wait for the disciples to answer his questions. Instead, he calls their attention to the wounds in his hands and side. He invites them to touch him – to feel his warm flesh. By doing this he brings them into his reality. Yes, he suffered a horrible death, and his body still retains the marks of the nails. And no, he’s not a ghost. He’s flesh and blood. He even asks them for something to eat.
scriptures that related to him. He then gave them a commission: “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.”
For our reflection today let’s put ourselves into this story. Let’s listen to Jesus asking us those same questions of us. What about Jesus troubles my heart? What questions do I have about him? After a prayerful reflection, ask a final question of yourself. How will I witness to him?
open my mind
to the meaning
of the scriptures
that I may know you.
Open my heart
that I might love you,
my friend, my teacher,
my risen Lord.
- Published in Church Reflections
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 11, 2021
ACTS 4:32-35 1 JOHN 5:1-6 JOHN 20:19-31
Easter Sunday’s account of the resurrection related that, very early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene discovered that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Running back to the place where the disciples were in hiding, she told them of her discovery. Immediately, Peter and John left the group and returned with her to the garden tomb. We were told that Peter didn’t know what to make of it, but that John had looked into the tomb “and believed.” The two men returned to their place of hiding leaving Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb.
This Sunday’s gospel takes us to the disciples’ place of hiding. It’s evening. The doors are locked. The disciples are very fearful. Will the Sanhedrin dispatch temple guards to arrest them as they did Jesus? Two of them have already abandoned the group and fled the city. We’ll read their story next Sunday. The others are still contemplating their next move.
Jesus suddenly appears to them. He greets them with the familiar “shalom,” and immediately shows them his hands and his side. The marks of his crucifixion are still there even though he seems robust and healthy. Again, he reinforces his
wish of peace for them extending the greeting of “shalom” for a second time. They can’t be fearful if they’re going to be able to grasp what he’s about to ask them to do. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
His greeting of “shalom” is meant to heal them of their fear. Normally “shalom” would be accompanied with a kiss on both cheeks, but today Jesus comes up to each one and breathes on them. He’s repeating what was done long ago. “And the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” They’re to be new people, brave, free from fear, filled with the breath of the Spirit.
He commissioned them to liberate men and women from their slavery to the world and its sin – to clothe themselves with Christ – to be Christ in the world. Their mission is our mission. Easter isn’t just a commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. It’s the day of renewal for every one of us who have been baptized into Christ, who carry the joyful burden of love and healing of Christ. Easter is the day each of us hears him say, “As the Father has sent me, so I send You.”
- Published in Church Reflections
EASTER SUNDAY, April 4, 2021
ACTS 10:34A, 37-43 COLOSSIANS 3:1-4 JOHN 20:1-9
The Easter gospel invites us, as a community, to travel back in time to a garden that’s just a short distance outside the walls of Jerusalem. We’re standing in the predawn darkness, but we can see that there’s a tomb there. It’s cool and very quiet. Jerusalem is just beginning to wake up. It’s Sunday and the work week will soon begin.
In the distance we see a woman making her way down the hill to the garden. She goes directly to the tomb and sees that it’s open. The quiet is broken by her sudden cry. As she looks into the tomb her cry becomes a heartwrenching wail. She turns, runs back up the hill and disappears through the city gates. We listen as her cries gradually fade. We turn our gaze back to the empty tomb just as the pink rays of dawn appear along the horizon.
We can see a bit more now. There are some burial clothes neatly folded and resting on the shelf where a body would have been placed. The cloth used to wrap the face was rolled up and not with the others.
Again, there’s movement at the city gate. The same woman is returning. She has two men with her. They’re running, the woman is first followed by a young man. The other man lags behind them.
The young man and the woman arrive first. The woman is still crying. The young man stands beside her. They stand outside the tomb watching the other man, who’s elderly, hurry toward them. He goes directly to the tomb and looks in. For a long moment he studies the shadowy tomb. The moment he moves away the young man looks in. He looks for only a moment. He turns around. His face caches the morning light. He’s smiling yet there are tears running down his cheeks. No one says a word.
The two men leave the tomb in silence. The woman, still weeping, remains. The scene ends here.
There’s so much more to this account, but the Church only gives us this one scene to think about today. Who are these people? What are we to make of this scene?
This is the beginning of the story of the resurrection of Jesus in John’s gospel. The woman is Mary Magdalene. Jesus cleansed her of seven demons. She became his fervent disciple and even supported him during his mission. Loyal to the end, she stood at the foot of the cross keeping vigil as he died. The young man is the apostle John. It’s his account of the event that we’re reading today. Simon Peter is the older man who was given the title “rock” by Jesus.
Mary loved Jesus deeply. She came to the tomb blinded by her tears and overwhelmed by her sorrow. The young man, John, looked into the tomb and believed that Jesus had transcended; Jesus was the Christ. The elderly Peter, was puzzled by the empty tomb. He returned to Jerusalem wondering what had happened there.
Through this short gospel passage the Church is focusing the attention of her children on the empty tomb. These three people represent us – all of us looking into the tomb. We respond in different ways.
Mary looked into the tomb and saw only darkness. She was blinded by her personal loss. Mary was stuck in time. She knew Jesus and she loved him but now he was gone and she was in deepest mourning. Unlike John who “saw and believed” Mary was blinded by her sorrow. She wasn’t yet ready to see the transcendent Jesus, the Christ.
John, the mystic, looked into the tomb and realized that Jesus wasn’t dead. The burial clothes were neatly folded. The stone was casually rolled away. It was obvious that death had no power over him. Jesus had stepped out of the constriction of time
and space. He had conquered the cruelty of the world. He was the universal Christ. He would be present until the end of time.
Peter left the tomb wondering “what rising from the dead meant.” He knew Jesus was no longer in the tomb. No one stole his body; the condition of the tomb gave no evidence of that. If he had risen from the dead where was he now?
Mary, John and Peter represent all of us. Some of us, like Mary, are good, dedicated people. We love deeply. We aspire to follow Jesus and his teachings but, somehow, we can’t see beyond the cruelty of the world and we can’t overcome our fear of death.
Some of us, like Peter, are slow to understand. Believing is a long and difficult process. It involves not only our minds but our hearts.
John represents the Church, those believers who, from the day they looked into the empty tomb, have proclaimed Jesus Lord, resurrected and with us, feeding us with his very life at the Eucharistic table. John represents the Church who throughout the centuries “sees and believes.”
This account of the resurrection will continue. In the next scene Jesus will speak Mary’s name. She’ll see him, recognize him and fall at his feet to worship him. She’ll come to be remembered as the first witness to the resurrection. In another scene, Jesus will ask Peter three times if he loves him. Each yes will heal his heart. Healed, he’ll join the resurrected Christ in shepherding the Christian community until the day he himself will be crucified.
The empty tomb is a challenge to our faith. It forces us to ask what “rising from the dead means.” Each of us is Mary. Each of us is Peter. We listen to hear him call our names. We assure him that we love him. We unite with the Church at the empty tomb. In chorus we whisper, “My Lord and my God.”
- Published in Church Reflections