Sunday Sermon for May 15, 2011, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10
In the first reading today St. Peter point blankly states to the people that “God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified.” We are told that the people were cut to the heart when they heard this. Of course, if you had been waiting your whole life for a promise to be fulfilled and learned that you had rejected the fulfillment when it arrived, you would also be cut to the heart. The people of Israel had been waiting for the promised Messiah, but because they did not recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise, they had Him put to death. St. Peter assures them that all they have to do is repent, believe in Jesus and be baptized.
We know that baptism is not magic and that as members of Christ we have an obligation to live our lives according to the pattern set by Jesus Himself. St. Peter makes this point when he tells the people on Pentecost that Jesus is not only the Messiah, but He is Lord. To call Him Lord implies that we are servants who will be obedient to whatever He commands of us. In the Gospel our Lord tells us that He is the gate through which the sheep enter and exit the sheepfold. He also makes clear that He is the shepherd and that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him.
It is certainly wonderful to know that the gate will not be opened to thieves and robbers who want to steal our souls and use us for their own personal gain. What a joy it is to know the love of our Lord and that He sought nothing for Himself when He came to earth or when He laid down His life for us. If we remain in Him, we have nothing to fear because He will not allow anyone in who wants to violate us. However, we also have free will, so we have to choose whether or not we want to remain in Him or wander from Him. It needs to be made clear that when we say He will not let anyone in who wants to violate us, this does not mean that we will have an easy, cushy life. St. Peter, in the second reading, states that Jesus suffered for us and left us an example to have us follow in His footsteps. This follows upon his teaching that we have been called to suffer in patience. So, as the Shepherd, we follow Him, as Lord we obey Him. Here we are told that He left us an example to follow and that we have been called. In each case it is dealing with the sufferings that are incumbent upon those who choose to remain in Christ.
What does this mean for us? It means that grace will be given to us to remain faithful and to grow in virtue from and through the suffering we have to endure. St. Peter says that Jesus handed Himself over to the One Who judges justly; this is the example we must follow as well. We recall the words of our Lord that no one can snatch anyone from the hand of His Father. Though we may be tempted and sorely tried, if we cooperate with the graces given to us, these temptations actually work in our favor.
We know that we have a Shepherd Who is faithful and loving; what we do not know is whether or not we, as individual sheep, are faithful and loving toward our Shepherd. The only way we can be sure is if we have been tempted and demonstrated an ability to rely on the Lord’s grace and strength to remain faithful. This is why He allows the temptations and the suffering. It purifies us in many ways and helps us to love God more.
We may think that if this is the way He allows us to be treated that we do not want to be His sheep. Throughout the centuries people have fallen prey to this temptation that appears so logical but is, in fact, merely selfish. Many have walked away from the Lord because of the lure of sin only to later realize the error of their ways and return with a conviction to love the Lord and to suffer whatever trials come their way. St. Peter even addresses this when he says that we had gone astray like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. Are we willing to remain in Jesus and seek His grace to help us? Are we willing to listen to Jesus and follow Him as our Shepherd? Are we willing to obey Him as Lord? Only when we these things can we be saved by Him as the Christ.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.