Acts 13:14, 43-52

Revelation 7:9, 14b-7

John 10:27-30

Imagine those first years of preaching the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  Then imagine what it must have been like to hear the Gospel for the first time.  That is what is happening in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  Paul and Barnabas are on their mission and have arrived in Antioch.  They go the synagogue, and when invited by those in attendance, Paul preaches.  He must have been charismatic, filled with the Spirit as he was.  The people were spellbound as Paul took them on a brief tour of their salvation history, beginning with the Exodus experience and God’s guiding the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.  He spoke of the ups and downs of the relationship between the people and God.  He put David before them, their great king, who, at the end of his reign, died.  From his line came Jesus who preached the forgiveness of sins and salvation.  Some of the Jews rejected Jesus and crucified him.  But unlike David who died, Jesus went through death to resurrection and then, as God’s beloved, to reign at God’s right hand.  Those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Messiah will be found worthy of eternal life.  Those who reject him will not.  The people are ecstatic in the reception of the message and ask Paul and Barnabas to return on the next Sabbath and tell them more.

By the next Sabbath, the mood has changed and jealousy has reared its ugly head.  Some of the Jews, when they saw the huge turnout for Paul and Barnabas, stirred up hostility toward them and reject them from the synagogue.  The apostles take it as a sign and tell the Jews that Paul and Barnabas will be turning their attention from them to the Gentiles who remain eager to hear their message.  Many believers were added as the result of the preaching and the message began to spread throughout the whole region.  Now some of the Jews turn the important people against Paul and Barnabas and they are ousted from the region.  Rather than being broken in spirit by their being rejected and by the persecution that is erupting, the disciples shake the dust from their feet in protest against them, and heading for Iconium to a new audience they are filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

A caution as you hear this reading – do not hear in it a justification for anti-Semitism.  Some of the first converts, Paul among them, were Jews, as were the first disciples.  The present pope and his predecessor both voiced apologies for the times in the Church’s history that the Jews were persecuted for being Jesus’ killers.  Both condemned that notion.  John Paul II prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  Benedict XVI has met with Jewish leaders and visited a synagogue.  As Christians we must never do or say anything that would deny the fact that the Jews are the chosen people of God and descendents of Abraham.  So, too, by the way are the followers of Islam.  They are not outside the pale of salvation.  Remember, God wills the salvation of all people.  Paul said that and so did the Second Vatican Council.  There will be enough room in heaven for all of us.

For us in this day and age, the responsibility remains to carry on the mission of Paul and Barnabas and announce the Good News of Salvation.  Some will do that through preaching as they did, but the majority will do that through imitation of Christ in charitable works.  Think of those who responded to the devastation in Haiti and ministered to the survivors.  They acted out of love and poured themselves out in service of all those wounded and orphaned ones who lived through the earthquake.  The same marked the response to the quake in Chile.  Helping people find reason to hope is the Gospel in Action and is a far better response than the horrific judgment of Pat Robertson and those of his ilk, that the disasters are the result of God’s judgment against the Haitians and the Chileans.  It’s hard to hear the Gospel in that.

The Second reading continues John’s vision proclaimed in the reading from the Book of Revelation.  John is trying to describe the indescribable.  In his vision, he sees Christ as the Lord of Lords with the entire world responding, but here the One seated on the throne is the Lamb.  There is a role reversal that thrills.  In the Gospel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who went out into the dangerous territory in search of the lost lamb and, when he found it, put it on his shoulders and carried it home to the safety of the flock.  Now it is the enthroned Lamb who will shepherd the people who have been suffering in the bitter persecution, wandering homeless, experiencing hunger and thirst.  The Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear.

John wants those in the midst of persecution to see things differently.  Don’t we tend to think that the victims who have died are the defeated ones?  Their families and friends grieve the loss.  They did in John’s time and they do in our own.  But John wants all to look through a different lens with a new perspective.  Those who lost their lives are the ones forming the great multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stand before the throne of the Lamb in white robes and carrying palm branches.  Instead of victims, they are victors and their joy knows no bounds.  These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They have borne the cross to its ultimate and are now raised to new life in Christ.  The Lamb has shepherded them safely home.

If you’re not careful this Sunday, the proclamation of the gospel will be over before you notice that it has begun.  Just five brief sentences, they proclaim the heart of our faith as Christians.  Here we are back to the traditional roles of shepherd and sheep.  Notice the intimacy between the two.  Jesus said, My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. How well do you know Jesus?  How much time do you spend with him?  We don’t get to know anybody well except through being together in good times and in bad over a period of time.  It is said that one flock of sheep could mingle with another and be indistinguishable, one from the other.  But when the shepherd made his whistling or clicking sound, his own separated themselves from the rest and walked with the one whose sound they recognized.  It is the intimacy of relationship that Jesus wants with his disciples.  And that relationship will keep the disciples safe regardless of the situation – even impending death.  None will perish.  No one can snatch them from his grasp.  None.  No one.  Neither allows for exceptions.  Jesus gives his followers eternal life because it is the Father’s will.  And the greatness of the Father makes it impossible for anyone to take them out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.

Be comforted by that last six-word sentence.  Jesus reveals his identity to us.  Now we know who Jesus is.  That revelation is the core of our faith.  Believing it, for us, is eternal life.  We thrill at the proclamation.  Some of those who heard Jesus in John’s Gospel cried blasphemy and picked up rocks to stone him.  He walked through their midst and away to safety.  His hour had not yet come.  We thrill because we are affirmed in our belief that Jesus is the Son of God, our Savior and our Lord.  The challenge is for us to live with Christ now, to believe that Jesus is with us always, that we live in him and are one with each other in Christ.

We continue the Easter celebration.  The neophytes among us still look to us seasoned ones to see what living in the Risen Christ means in practice.  They look to us to continue to learn how we worship and celebrate Eucharist as the Body of Christ.  If we reach out to each other and support each other, encouraging each other along the way because we know him, the Church will be revived and renewed.  And that proclamation will call out to the multitudes from every nation, race, people and tongue to enter here and be welcome as we gather at the Table until we are caught up to share in Christ’s glory.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.



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