A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for May, 2014

Office building versus sheep

As people who live in the city, we  often tend to utilize urban images to tell our stories.  For example, it could be something that happened in the office at work.  Something funny, or something sad.  The point is that almost everyone today knows what an office building is, and consequently is placed in the right context to understand the nuances of the story.

But not so in the time of Jesus.  Needless to say, it is quite likely that there were no office buildings.  The people of his day were primarily agricultural folk, and could understand the nuances of images such as trees, plants, seeds and sheep.  In fact, the shepherd-sheep image was often used in the Bible.  We have the case of Ezechiel 34 which speaks of false and true shepherds.  And in the case of the New Testament, there is the famous example  of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 3-7; Matthew 18:10-14).  Jesus’ listeners knew about the nuances of sheep and sheepherding.

The Gospel of the fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10) speaks very decidedly about sheep and shepherds.  Among the several possible, it seems to me that there are two themes  that can be considered important.  Namely, “familiarity” and “commitment.”  These themes presuppose awareness of the nuances.

First of all, “familiarity.”  Jesus calls himself the model shepherd.  So, when the sheep hear his voice they follow him.  The sheep may hear the voice of a stranger, but they do not follow.  “Hearing the voice” of the shepherd and recognizing it means that a special bond already exists between the shepherd and the sheep.  This is “familiarity.”

A second theme is “commitment.”  As the model shepherd, Jesus will lay down his life for his sheep, while the hireling will not.  In fact, Jesus did die and rise again thus granting life (pasture) to his sheep.  This is “commitment.”

Now, what can we learn from today’s Gospel?  The answer is based on the fact that our Baptism establishes our linkage with Jesus in a special way, and makes the following possible.  The theme of “familiarity” means, above all, that I have to figure out the following question.   WHEN do I hear the voice of Jesus?  Is it when I read and reflect on the Bible and/or prayer?  Or is it when I listen to someone who speaks like Jesus?  One who tells me that I must have compassion, pursue justice, treat others with dignity?

The theme of “commitment” makes me answer the following question.  How much of myself, in terms of time and resources,  am I willing to give to others?  Jesus, the model shepherd, died for his sheep.  Basically, this theme is about “service.”

“Familiarity” means I have to listen to the VOICE of Jesus whenever I hear it.  “Commitment” means that I give myself willingly to the SERVICE of others.  Otherwise, I am deaf and selfish.

 

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Passing on the Word

Often without knowing it, what we say might actively influence other people. That can also be true of a school teacher or an understanding friend.  The influence becomes probable because of the motivation by which that something  is said.

In the first reading of the Third Sunday of Easter (Acts 2:14-33) Peter speaks very forcefully to the people.  The background context is that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the disciples, huddled in fear, and commissioned them to carry on his work.  Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit as a “motivational” force to assist them during their proclamation.  Soon after, Pentecost happened and the disciples were virtually “fired up” to proclaim Jesus to others.  It is well to remember that the Holy Spirit is the “creative power” of God.

So, what was Peter’s message to the assembled crowd?  Basically, we can say that it consisted of three items.  First, he gave a summaryof the life and works of Jesus, including some of the miracles. Then, the people had him killed, and finally, God raised him from the dead, showing that the resurrection demonstrated the victory of life over death.

Secondly, Peter indicated that the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible for the Jews) showed support for Jesus’ message, for example, the prophet Joel (3:1-5) and king David and some of his Psalms (16:8-11; 132:11).  Consequently, there was a connection between the Old Testament and Jesus.  Thirdly, Peter calls his audience to repentance.

In effect, what are some of the things that we can learn from this reading of the book of   Acts?  One lesson can be that the Holy Spirit continues to give “motivation” to us whenever we proclaim Jesus to others.  This motivation is provided by the reception of our Baptism, wherein we receive the Holy Spirit.  We must learn to appreciate our Baptism for what it can help us do.  Blessing ourselves with Holy Water every time that we enter or exit the church would be a good reminder.

Another lesson that we can learn is that in our proclamation of Jesus, we must take into account his context, which includes the Old Testament.  This means that we must study it, reflect on it, and have it become part of the “Jesus story” whenever we proclaim.

A third probable lesson is that part of the Jesus message tells us about the involvement of the Father and the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry.  A genuine proclamation will include the connection and interaction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and this demands faith.  The motivation to “proclaim” will be given to those who believe.

In truth, it will be BAPTISM, BIBLE, and BELIEF (the three “Bs” of Christian discipleship) that will be necessary to unlock the doors of faith hostility whenever we attempt to proclaim the message of the resurrected Jesus to others.  If we have the three above items, then it will be possible to “pass on the Word”….

 

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