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4th Sunday of Easter (Cycle C)

Readings:
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Psalm 100:1-3, 5
Revelation 7:9, 14-17
John 10:27-30

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Joy in Christ Despite Persecution
Despite hardships and persecutions the Church has remained faithful to her mission to be God's vehicle of salvation "to the ends of the earth" (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15; Lk 24:47-48 and Acts 1:8).  Saints Paul and Barnabas, in our First Reading, had the joyful experience of bringing many people to Christ, but they also had to face rejection and persecution.  However, even though their experiences of suffering and persecution, they continued to be "filled with joy and the Holy Spirit." 

We are invited, in our Psalm Reading, to joyfully proclaim the Lord's kingship over the whole earth. We are reminded that sincere praise and worship of God is always accompanied by the joy of the believer.  Our joy stems from faith that "the Lord is God," and comes from the conviction that, as the people of God, we belong to Him and feel secure in our relationship with Him.

The Second Reading continues the theme of joy in Christ, even when we are faced with persecution.  In the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, St. John is granted a glorious vision of the great multitude of the universal Church from every nation, race, people, and tongue who suffered martyrdom for Christ. The multitude of persecuted Christian saints that John sees have been washed clean in "the blood of the Lamb," and they joyfully worship for eternity in the heavenly Sanctuary.

The Gospel Reading is from Jesus' teaching known as the Good Shepherd Discourse (Jn 10:1-19).  Those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior are the "sheep of His flock" who know His "voice" and follow Him (Jn 10:27).  To His faithful "sheep," Jesus promises the gift of eternal life and the reassuring promise that no one can separate them from Him (10:28-29).  Like Saints Paul and Barnabas, we are also called to be joyfully confident that Christ, the Good Shepherd, will continually care for those of us who are members of His faithful flock, and the promise that nothing can separate us from God's love.

The First Reading Acts 13:14, 43-52 ~ St. Paul Proclaims the Gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles
14 Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia.  On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats.  43 Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.  44 On the following Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.  45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.  46 Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.  47 For so the Lord has commanded us, "I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth."  48 The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord.  All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, 49 and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.  50 The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory.  51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.  52 The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit directed the Christian community at Antioch (Syria) to send Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey to the Gentiles of Cyprus, Pamphylia, and Pisidia.  In order to have more in common with his intended Gentile audience, Paul began using the Roman Gentile name "Paulus," instead of his Hebrew name Saul.  After preaching in Cyprus, they continued on to Perga in Pamphylia and then to Antioch in Pisidia.  As was their custom, following Jesus' mission instruction to His disciples, they went first to the Jewish Synagogue (Acts 13:14), to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt 10:6; Acts 13:46).  It was a mixed congregation of Jews, Gentile converts and "God-fearers" (Gentiles who believed in the One True God but who had not yet undergone circumcision and the other conversion rites).

When Paul spoke, professing Jesus as the promised Messiah who died and was resurrected in fulfillment of the prophecies of the holy prophets and through whom forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life is proclaimed (13:16-41), many Jews and the Gentiles who were Jewish converts were moved by Paul's testimony (13:43).  But other Jews were united in opposition to Paul and Barnabas' Gospel message, and therefore Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles of Antioch who responded with gladness and faith (13:46-49).  When they were expelled from the territory by influential Jews, as Jesus directed His disciples, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust of the community off their feet in protest (13:51; see Mt 10:14; Mk 6:11; Lk 9:5; 10:11) and continued with their mission, filled with joy and the power of the Holy Spirit (13:50-52).

Responsorial Psalm 100:1-3, 5 ~ An Invitation to Praise God
The response is: "We are his people, the sheep of his flock" or "Alleluia."
1 Sing joyfully to the LORD [Yahweh], all you lands; 2 serve the LORD [Yahweh] with gladness; come before him with joyful song.
Response
3 Know that the LORD [Yahweh] is God; he made us, his we are; his people, the flock he tends.
Response
5 The LORD [Yahweh] is good: his kindness endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Response

Psalms 93-99 proclaimed the Lord's kingship, and now this psalm is the liturgical conclusion of the previous psalms and is a canticle of praise that summarizes the faith and hope of Israel.  The psalm begins with an invitation (verses 1-2) which is followed by the reason for the invitation (verses 3 and 5).  The psalmist is eager to have his invitation accepted.  His "Serve the Lord" in verse 2 is the equivalent of "Worship the Lord."  Sincere praise and worship of God is always accompanied by the joy of the believer and stems from faith that "the Lord is God", and from the conviction that as the people of God we belong to Him and feel secure in our relationship with Him.  The Lord deserves the praise of all the earth (verse 1) and of all His people (verse 3) because His steadfast love and faithfulness is eternal for all generations (verse 5).  In this Psalm, we, the congregations who are the "sheep of his flock," proclaim our continuing joy in worshiping the Lord God.  We are like Jesus' disciples Paul and Barnabas in our First Reading who worshipped and served the Lord in their proclamation of the Gospel of salvation.

The Second Reading Revelation 7:9, 14-17 ~ The Faithful Who are Cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb
9 After this I [John] had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.  They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.  13a Then one of the elders said to me ... 14b "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.  15 For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night in his Temple.  The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.  16 They will not hunger or thirst anymore, not will the sun or any heat strike them.  17 For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." [...] not in the Greek text but added for clarity.

In the Second Reading the theme of joy in Christ, even when we are faced with persecution, is continued.  St. John is granted a glorious vision of the great multitude of the universal Church from every nation, race, people, and tongue who suffered martyrdom for Christ (7:16). Their white robes and palm branches are signs of their purity and their joy (Rev 7:9; also see 3:5).  What he witnesses is a reversal of the scattering of the sinful human family in the judgment event of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9).  It is a reversal that occurred at the Jewish feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection (Acts 2:1-12).  The human family has been restored—not as children of Adam, but as holy children of God through Christian baptism.  The multitude of persecuted Christians John sees have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and joyfully worship for eternity in the heavenly Sanctuary—the Lamb who is the center of the throne who will lead them to springs of life giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 7:17). 

The Gospel of John 10:27-30 ~ The Sheep of Jesus' Flock Know His Voice
[Jesus said] "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can take them out of my hand.  29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father's hand.  30 The Father and I are one." [...] not in Greek text but added for clarity.

This passage is from Jesus' teaching known as the Good Shepherd Discourse (Jn 10:1-19).  Those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior are the "sheep of His flock" who know His "voice" and follow Him (10:27).  To His faithful "sheep," Jesus promises the gift of eternal life and the reassuring promise that no one can separate them from Him (10:28-29).  Notice Jesus says I give them eternal life in the present tense; not "I will give."  The gift is present and continuous! 

And then in verse 30 He says The Father and I are one.  This is the the 3rd time in the Gospel of John that Jesus has made this declaration that He and the Father are one!  He makes the same claim He made in John 5:17 and 8:58.  Jesus and the Father are one because they do the same work and stand in the same relation to the "sheep"—believers in covenant union with God.  God the Father accomplished His work in the world uniquely through the Son.  The sheep "know" Jesus because they are in a covenantal relationship with Him that creates a holy family bond in which the baptized believer is permanently marked by the Holy Spirit (Lk 22:20; CCC 73, 1272).  It is a relationship that promises the blessings of eternal life and a bond with Christ which cannot be broken, unless the baptized believer personally rejects Christ as Savior and Lord, but even in that case the indelible mark cannot be removed (CCC 1265-1274). 

The protection that Jesus provides for those who believe in Him and remain faithful is equivalent to the Father's divine protection.
Jesus is claiming unity and equality with the Godhead.  God the Father and God the Son are united in the loving embrace of the God the Holy Spirit.  The unity of the most holy Trinity cannot be divided even when we distinguish between the three Divine Persons.  St. Augustine instructs us: "Listen to the Son himself, 'I and the Father are one.'  He did not say, 'I am the Father' or 'I and the Father are one [Person].'  But when he says 'I and the Father are one,' notice the two words 'we are' and 'one'... for if they are one, then they are not diverse; if 'we are', then there is both a Father and a Son" [In Ioannis Evangelius - The Gospel of John, 36,9].  Jesus is one in substance with the Father as far as divine essence or nature is concerned, but the Father and the Son are distinct Persons.  Pope Paul VI in Creed of the People of God, 10 wrote: "We believe then in the Father who eternally begets the Son; in the Son, the Word of God, who is eternally begotten; in the Holy Spirit, the uncreated Person who proceeds from the Father and the Son as their eternal Love."  Also see CCC 202, 252-255, 590 and the Agape Bible Study document "The Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity".

But how do we "hear" His voice and recognize that He is our Shepherd and the only one who we must follow?  We recognize His voice through the study of Sacred Scripture and through the teachings of the Church.  We will have our eyes opened to Him in the same way that the disciples from Emmaus had their "eyes opened" and recognized Jesus when He blessed and the broke the bread in their presence in Luke 24:13-31.  In Luke 24:25-27 He taught them beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.  In that encounter Jesus teaches us two truths:

  1. Belief in Jesus is connected to a proper understanding of the Scriptures.
  2. All Scripture bears a prophetic message and significance concerning Jesus and His mission of salvation.

One cannot truly recognize the Good Shepherd to follow Him or the Divine Presence of Christ in the Eucharist who is One with the Father without studying and understanding the Scriptures.  Jesus of Nazareth, the heir of David (Mt 1:1), is the Shepherd-God promised in the prophecies of Ezekiel when the prophet wrote: For thus says the Lord GOD [YHWH]: I myself will look after and tend my sheep.  As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so I will tend my sheep.  I will rescue them form every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark ... I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David; he shall pasture them and be their shepherd. I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.  I the LORD [YHWH], have spoken (Ez 34:11-12, 23-24).

Catechism References:
Acts 13:48 (CCC 2640)
Revelation 7:9 (CCC 775, 1138)
John 10:30 (CCC 590)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © Agape Bible Study 2013, revised 2016