April 15, 2016

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER C (APRIL 17, 2016)


HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER C (APRIL 17, 2016)

Ronald Stephens
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

As we have noticed before, the Gospel of John, because it was written last, is heavier in its theology and also in its interest in Jesus himself, both as man and God. The last statement of the gospel today: “The Father and I are one,” is likely not a direct quote from Jesus but a reflection of the direction that the new Christian theology had been taking. Although cut from this shortened passage, after Jesus says this the Jewish leaders want to have him stoned to death. Why?
The most important phrase in Jewish theology which is repeated by Jews each day is translated: “Adonai our God, Adonai is One.” The most distinctive feature of the Jewish religion from the beginning has been its insistence that there is only one God. When Jesus says that he is one with God, they are thinking equal to God. How can God be divided? And so for the Jew, this is heresy of the highest order.
But the whole Gospel of John, right from the beginning with “the word made flesh” is very high Christology in that its interest is in the divinity of God as well as his humanity. That Jesus is God is a major theme of John’s Gospel because the understanding of Jesus by the end of that first century had developed in that direction. That is not to say that it is not in all the Gospels – it is – but by John’s Gospel it becomes part and parcel of the theology of Christ.
The second theme in John’s Gospel today is of Jesus the shepherd of his people, the Church. The congregations at the turn of that first century hear Jesus’ voice and they follow after him. Jesus says he knows each of his sheep and takes care of each one so that no one will snatch a sheep out of his hand. He will protect them, and he will be the judge who will grant his flock eternal life.
This is picked up in the Book of Revelations as well. The Lamb has become the shepherd, however. An odd image in itself, isn’t it? But this Lamb knows the sheep as well and will give them shelter. “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more’”; they will be protected from the heat of the sun, guided to running waters, and their tears will be wiped away. Such beautiful, protective images of how Jesus will take care of his flock. If you hadn’t figured out that we are the flock he is protecting, the Psalm spells it out for us in the refrain: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.”
The original flock of Jesus was to have been the chosen people, the Jews. In the first reading today, we sense the frustration of Paul and Barnabas who go from synagogue to synagogue proclaiming the Good news, and each time get put down by the Jewish leaders of the community for preaching blasphemy – that Jesus was God. The leaders would rile up the Jewish people and they would be ejected from the synagogues.
In today’s reading, Paul strikes back verbally and warns the Jewish congregations that they were to have been the first to receive the Good News of eternal life, but since they had rejected it, it was going to go to a different flock – the Gentiles. This angered the traditionalists, of course, because the Jewish religion had often been closed and separate and did not welcome non-believers, even those who wanted to believe. So Paul and Barnabas were driven out and began their mission tot he Gentile nations.
What does all this have to do with us this week? We are the flock, the ones who have accepted Jesus as God and his offer to us of eternal life. We need, then, to be comforted by the fact that Jesus, our shepherd, will protect us, will feed us, will take away our thirst, will shelter us, will give us life. This is such a great cause for hope in our lives. Because we believe, which is faith, we can have hope that Jesus will judge us favorably and take care of us eternally. And we reflect this in the love that we can then share with others. We need to take time this week to reflect on how our belief strengthens us and gives us so much hope for the future that we can live our lives in love today.
I look around at the political situation today and all I see is chaos, anger, fear, racial division, violence, and negativity. We need desperately to see a little hope and love moving to the front. So, my prayer this week is that we cast aside all those negative things and work on the two virtues which Christ as shepherd wants us to have and put those into practice in our own lives. Let us be, in the words of Acts, a light for the Gentiles, a light for those who are angry, a light for those who fear, and like Paul, not be afraid to speak “boldly” about our hope and our love.
This is the challenge of today’s Good News. God bless.

Ronald Stephens
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)