We pray with the Easter graces of wanting to belong. The Risen Jesus presented Himself after his Resurrection as a close friend going around to bring together His “old gang” and begin to continue. The “old gang” became the Early Church and we gather together as that same Church to do the same things, beginning to continue His Life within and around us.
We pray as well with our communal trust that our present Holy Shepherd will continue to have the courage of the First Shepherd whom we hear boldly proclaiming his Gospel of recovery. We pray with and for our desires to follow Jesus whether we are going inside to experience His comfort or outside to share it. We can pray also with the Easter joy of being believers and chosen and called to not keep it to ourselves.
This sets up the basic proclamation for the preaching of the early Apostles and the first three Gospels. All who desire salvation must repent and be baptized. Peter then affirms that the promise, the Messiah, had been made to them and it was not too late. Peter’s message, directed towards his Jewish listeners, convinced three thousand that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was to be their covenanting Lord.
The Second Reading continues the encouragement to the early Church’s converts. The author is paraphrasing verses from the Suffering Servant Song from Chapter fifty-three of Isaiah. Suffering was at the heart of Jesus’ salvific mission and those who are baptized into the Christ will live a participation in His sufferings. Baptism is not an escape from this world’s resistance, but an immersion into Christ’s mission of this world’s recovery.
The reading of today’s Gospel pictures Jesus continuing His confronting of the Pharisees. In the various verses ending the preceding chapter, which must be read to more fully understand today’s Gospel, Jesus had stuck it in the eyes of these same Jewish leaders, telling them that in deed, they were blind. The man who was blind had recognized Jesus as the Christ, but those who could see visually, were blinded by their non-recognition. It parallels then the setting of our First Reading.
Jesus uses what we call, an extended metaphor. The Pharisees fail to figure out the figure of speech so He has to explain it all provokingly more to the point. They are the “thieves and robbers” who came before Jesus. Jesus had the “gate” opened to Him by the “gatekeeper”, His Father. The Pharisees are pictured as those who selfishly steal, slaughter, and destroy, but Jesus has come to give life to those who can hear His voice calling. Jesus is using a biblical image with which the Pharisees and Jewish listeners are quite familiar. The people of Israel had known themselves as “flock” and the Lord as “shepherd”. What Jesus is doing is completing the prophecy of Ezekiel in Chapter thirty-four. Jesus is the God-Sent shepherd Who will pasture God’s flock with tenderness and not selfishness.
In the previous chapter the human sense of seeing was employed for Jesus to offer Himself as Light. In these verses Jesus presents Himself as a voice to be heard. The Pharisees have not, they have refused to hear, but there are those who by hearing have come into the “flock” of believers. For this Jesus came, to voice the announcement that the Jewish people as well as all others are being called again. This continues the theme of the post-Resurrectional Jesus; “I have come to tell you again, to voice your personal and collective identities.”
The “voice” of Jesus and the Christian message does not sound attractive to all who hear it. Many of the Christian responses in world history have not made the ways of Jesus desirable. The Crusades, the Inquisitions, persecutions, and the anti-Semitic statements, teachings, and persecutions are embarrassing now to us, and have left a bad image or somewhat of a dubious voice to be heard in the world. I think it was Chesterton who remarked that Christianity hasn’t failed; it just hasn’t been tried yet.
I was pondering recently how we could stop the radical terrorists from within the Islamic community to give up their violently strict religious beliefs and practices. Rather than bombing them on to death, let’s bomb them with the same seductive advertisements we and our Christian culture receive every moment through TV, radio, computers, newspapers and movies. They certainly are a strong voice which much of our western culture has bowed down and worshipped. I figure that very soon their strong religious beliefs and practices would likewise experience the cancer which is eating away our Judeo-Christian ways.
My plan would render the terrorists into a tranquil state of playing war-games on the computers we would sell them. They all could spend their time watching our TV programs and be dulled by satire and inanity. They too would enjoy irreverent sexual freedom and disregard for the rights of the unborn. It would reduce our Defense Budget. I hope this does not sound too cynical.
Within all this communicational jungle Jesus continues speaking through the Church. Into all this cacophony, we who hear His voice speak it in words and actions, that the life He came to give us in “abundance” is still available and worth the living. The Pharisees did use their power to demand religious conformity. Jesus is not a demand, but an invitation extended to and through us. Stealing, slaughtering and destroying are appropriate to the thieves and robbers. Sharing, encouraging life, and recovery are the words we have heard and the gestures which will eventually bring about God’s one and healed flock.
“The Good Shepherd is risen! He who laid down his life for his sheep, who died for his flock, He is risen, Alleluia.”
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