4th Sunday of Easter May 12, 2019
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
(Yes, it is still Easter! Alleluia!)
1st Reading: Acts 13:14, 43-52
Psalm 100:1-3, 5
2nd Reading: Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
Gospel: John 10:27-30
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. ~Psalm 100
I love the Gospel passage this week! It is one of those passages that has always given me comfort, and even the “warm-fuzzies,” which is quite an accomplishment for this veteran of pragmatically unfuzzy thinking. I am a sheep of the Lord because I do hear his voice and I do my best to follow him. He will give me eternal life. No one will be able to snatch me from his hands. This is the pure hope of the Gospel in its simplest form.
But make no mistake! It is not once-saved-always-saved thinking. We have our definite part in this. We have to hear him. We then have to listen to what we have heard and follow him. We have to be in his hand and place ourselves there every day of our lives. When I was a Protestant, I used to muse that sinning was so simple. I would just have to choose to do it. To sin or not to sin is always my choice. The thing that would decide whether I was a murderer or a law-abiding citizen was only my choice. It is rather frightening to realize that, but that is the meaning of the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” What prevented me from sinning was my love for God. When you love a person, you don’t sin against them. Relationship changes us. A loving relationship changes us for good!
Read this passage written by Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) from his commentary on the Gospel of John:
The mark of Christ’s sheep is their willingness to hear and obey, just as the sign of those who are not his is their disobedience. We take the word “hear” to imply obedience to what has been said. People who hear God are known by him. We are all united to Christ in a mystical relationship because of his incarnation. No one is entirely unknown by God, but to be known in this way is to become his kin. Thus, when Christ says, “I know mine,” he means, “I will receive them, and give them permanent mystical kinship with myself.” It might be said that, inasmuch as he has become man, he has made all human beings his kin, since all are members of the same race; we are all united to Christ in a mystical relationship because of his incarnation. Yet those who do not preserve the likeness of his holiness are alienated from him. “My sheep follow me,” says Christ. By a certain God-given grace, believers follow in the footsteps of Christ.
No longer subject to the shadows of the law, they obey the commands of Christ, and guided by his words rise through grace to his own dignity, for they are called children of God. When Christ ascends into heaven, they also follow him. Christ promises his followers, as a recompense and reward eternal life, exemption from death and corruption, and from the torments the judge inflicts upon transgressors. By giving life, Christ shows that by nature he is life. He does not receive it from another, but supplies it from his own resources. And by eternal life, we understand not only length of days, which all, both good and bad, shall possess after the resurrection, but also the passing of those days in peace and joy. We may also see in the word “life” a reference to the Eucharist, by means of which Christ implants in believers his own life through their sharing in his flesh, according to the text: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
Sometimes clarity is best defined by its opposite. St. Cyril says that the mark or sign of those who are NOT Christ’s sheep is their disobedience. This idea is reiterated in 1 John 2 where the saint says that,
“ They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.”
Whoever THEY were, they were certainly within the Church at one point or another and would have been known as Christians; then they chose to go out of it. It was their own choice that caused them to depart from the Body of Christ, and this made it plain to all that they were not part of the Church. It is never God’s fault that people walk away from him, of course. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God “wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth.” Psalm 19 says that the very “heavens declare the glory of God.” So what happens to these people who have known all, or at least part, of the Truth and have been offered God’s grace to receive it, but then they have deliberately turned away? (Do you know some of these people? I know that I have known several over the years, and it is always very sad to see them make this choice!)
St Thomas Aquinas puts it like this:
I can see, thanks to the light of the sun; but if I close my eyes, I cannot see: this is no fault of the sun, it is my own fault, because by closing my eyes, I prevent the sunlight from reaching me (Commentary on St. John, ad loc.). – Excerpt From: University of Navarre Faculty. Navarre Bible Commentary New Testament
God’s graces are always there for the taking, but some, like the Pharisees with whom Jesus was having this conversation, refused to accept the grace given. Salvation is a free gift, but what we do with that gift is our choice.
The good news is that, if we choose the gift and the graces, we can never be torn from his hand! In our first reading from Acts, we see this in action. Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, speaking to Jewish converts there, who were very excited to receive this new gift of salvation. But the Jewish officials, seeing the excited crowds, became jealous and contradictory. Notice what Paul and Barnabas said to them:
It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to first to you [the Jews]. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’
It was not that the Jews couldn’t understand, but that they wouldn’t understand what was being said to them. This is in stark contrast to the attitude of the believing Gentiles in the same passage:
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.
This is my own personal observation, so I hope someone corrects me if I am wrong, but perhaps we see the same thing happening today with so many converts coming into the Church. You may be aware of a lot of controversy over Vatican 2, and yet the documents, if you choose to read them yourself, are not the least bit heretical, nor do they recommend liturgical errors of any sort. Neither, of course, does the Catechism, yet many Catholics, both lay and cleric, choose to ignore that and do their own thing, go their own way, and dismiss traditional Catholic teaching and practice. They have pushed away the graces God offers.
Many have sadly left the Church altogether, or only use it when it suits them and is convenient, but now we find many Protestants are being called home to the Church, as well as Muslims, and Jews. Yes, far more leave the Church than come into her, but if they leave, or so St. John says, then they were perhaps never a part of her in the first place. Some leave, then years later return, proving that they were his sheep all along, but perhaps were just confused or apathetic at the time of their leaving. As they return with us who have been brought into full communion, along with those who come to know Jesus for the first time, we prove that God’s graces are there for the taking, if only we hear and listen to his voice, and follow where it leads. God loves to give good gifts to his children, and it brings him much joy when we accept and use them to our own good end!
Look upon your flock, kind Shepherd, and be pleased to settle in eternal pastures the sheep you have redeemed by the Precious Blood of your Son. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen!” ~ prayer after Communion, 4th Sunday of Easter