Ordinarily during the Easter Season, I offer reflections on the Gospel first since the other two readings present the early Church after the Resurrection.  This week, however, I would like to begin with some reflections on the first reading since it includes an important Old Testament reference to Jesus and his mission among us.


Acts 4:8 – 12


This Sunday, we hear another portion of Peter’s speeches after curing the crippled man.  Last week, we heard a section of his speech to the Jewish people who had gathered around him after the cure.  This coming Sunday, we will hear a part of the speech he gave to the Sanhedrin after he John had been put into custody.  Both of these events – and the speeches – are very powerful, and those of you who have attended weekday Mass over these past few weeks since Easter have heard just small snippets of them, so let’s begin by hearing the entirety of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 to get the full context of Sunday’s reading.


8 Then Peter, filled with the holy Spirit, answered them, “Leaders of the people and elders:

9 If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved,


If we are being examined today about a good deed done:  notice how Peter captures the incongruity of his examination; he has just healed someone and the Sanhedrin is upset about it.


10 then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed.


in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean: you will recall that, when Peter cured the crippled man, he did it in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean (cf.  v. 3:6).  In doing so, Peter is recognizing that his power comes entirely from the Jesus – that’s what’s really upsetting the Sanhedrin and Peter isn’t afraid to address the real issue.  He goes on to accuse the Jewish leaders.


11 He is ‘the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.’


‘the stone rejected by you’: Early Christianity applied this citation from Psalm 118:22 to Jesus; cf. Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; 1 Peter 2:7.  It is a proverb that is so familiar to us that we probably miss the message.  A stone is rejected by the builders because it is seen to be unacceptable for some reason – flawed, wrong color, wrong size.  But, it is exactly the right stone for God’s holy temple.  Jesus, an itinerant preacher from the obscure town of Nazareth, is exactly the right one to accomplish God’s great work.  Again, the early Christians – mostly Jews – would also be familiar with another passage from their sacred scriptures that describes Jesus so aptly; we find it in Is 28:16.


12 There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”


There is no salvation through anyone else: In the Roman world of Luke’s day, salvation was often attributed to the emperor who was hailed as “savior” and “god.” Luke, in the words of Peter, denies that deliverance comes through anyone other than Jesus.  


This address gives us important insight into Peter’s conversion after our Lord’s resurrection.  Remember, he was the one who tried to talk Jesus out of any suffering, and now he stands up to the very people who put Jesus to death.  He is unafraid to point out their folly and proclaim what he has come to understand about Jesus.  He has now become a true disciple, willing to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and facing the same treatment that Jesus faced in his life.  That’s what we’re called to do, as well, as we ponder, ever more deeply, the true meaning of the Paschal mystery.  Remember, at our Baptism, we die with Christ; we’re reminded of that when the priest sprinkles our casket or our urn at our funeral.  He says: “In the waters of Baptism, so-and-so died with Christ and rose with him to new life.  May he/she now share with him eternal glory.”  Jesus is the cornerstone that God has laid in Zion, the new Jerusalem.  He is also the most unusual Messiah, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  Let’s look at that next in this Sunday’s gospel passage.



John 10:11 – 18


This Sunday – as we do every Fourth Sunday of Easter – we hear a beautiful, symbolic presentation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd as found in chapter 10 of the Gospel of John. As it was last year, this year it is part of his discourse against the Pharisees.  The good shepherd discourse continues the theme of attack on the Pharisees that ends John 9.  We will recall the account of the man born blind whom Jesus cured.  In this account, we recall the baptismal imagery of Jesus using spittle to give him sight and the blindness of the Pharisees, while the man progressively comes to recognize who Jesus is: “the man called Jesus,” “a prophet,” and finally “Lord.” In John 10, we hear Jesus present two images – the shepherd and the gate – continue this attack.  The figure is allegorical: the hired hands are the Pharisees who excommunicated the cured blind man. It serves as a commentary on John 9.  Jesus contrasts himself with the false shepherds of Israel, represented by the Pharisees, who rejected the one who gave the blind man sight.  For the shepherd motif, used of Yahweh in the Old Testament, cf. Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Micah 7:14; Psalm 23:1-4; 80:1; Ezekiel 34:1-24.  Notice in Ezekiel, the prophet criticized the leaders of Israel for being shepherds so unworthy that God has decided to come in person to replace them; this sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? 


To really understand Sunday’s passage, we need to read chapters 9 and 10.



11 I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.


I am:  In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven statements beginning with the words: “I am.”  Each of them reflects something said about God that can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures: light, life, water, vine, bread, etc.  Here, however, is the only place where Jesus describes himself with a human role: a shepherd.  This is remarkable since John’s Gospel usually presents a very high Christology, that is, one that identifies Jesus with God.  We see a few other examples of this in John’s Gospel, most notably the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.


The good shepherd:  Jesus explicitly calls himself the “good” or “model” shepherd.  And, it was not uncommon for a shepherd to risk his life as he tries to save his sheep from danger (cf. 1 Sm 17:34-36).  Of course, Jesus truly does lay down his life for his sheep (cf. 15:13).


lays down his life: we hear this phrase five times in this Sunday’s reading.  Each time, it is clear that it is his choice to do so.  Jesus doesn’t just risk his life – or even lose his life.  He lays it down: that is, he offers his entire life is for his sheep.


12 A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them.


A hired man: the Pharisees, who are interested only in their own benefit.


13 This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.


he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep: The difference between a shepherd and a hired hand is motivation.  While a good shepherd is willing to give his life for his sheep, the hired hands are only concerned about getting paid; they have no vested interest in the sheep.


14 I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me,


I know mine and mine know me: cf. 10:3+4; notice how the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd and follow him.  This is why Jesus lays down his life for his sheep; because of his intimate relationship with them.


15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.


just as the Father knows me and I know the Father: we are invited to know Jesus as intimately as he knows the Father.  This kind of “knowing” comes from sharing the same life, the same understanding, the same desire.  Elsewhere, we hear Jesus declare that he does only what the Father tells him to do.  We are invited into this same intimacy and are able to attain it when we do only what the Father tells us to do.


16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.


Other sheep: the Gentiles, possibly a reference to “God’s dispersed children” of John 11:52 destined to be gathered into one, or “apostolic Christians” at odds with the community of the beloved disciple.   Jesus’ concern as the shepherd of the people of God goes far beyond the Old Testament thinking. The Gentiles must also be brought to salvation.  As we will hear in Peter’s address in this Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the way to eternal salvation is the same for all – through Jesus.


there will be one flock, one shepherd: a better translation of the Greek alliterative phrase “μια ποιμνέ ̀εις ποιμεν” is “there will be one sheep-herd, one shepherd.”  The text anticipates a single Jewish-Gentile Church under one Shepherd – Christ.  Contrary to what some commentators would suggest, there is no indication here of a flock made up of separate folds.


17 This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.


This is why the Father loves me: this phrase does not intimate that the Father’s love is conditional but rather to show that the Son’s will is in perfect harmony with the Father’s will.


18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.  This command I have received from my Father.”


No one takes it from me: many of the better manuscripts say: “no one took it from me,” as though the crucifixion had already occurred, just as in the discourse of 13:31ff, Jesus speaks of himself as already glorified.


I have power to lay it down: here we see again the high Christology evident throughout all of John’s gospel.  The condition of the efficacy of his work is the complete freedom of his choice.


Power to take it up again: contrast the role of the Father as the efficient cause of the resurrection in Acts 2:24; 4:10; etc.; Romans 1:4; 4:24. Yet even here is added: This command I have received from my Father.


The crux of this message is twofold.  As shepherd, whose sole purpose is to care for the sheep, Jesus shares the essence of his life with them and is willing to give all on their behalf.  And, by tying his role as shepherd to his relationship with the Father, Jesus indicates that his mission as the good shepherd is not simply to care for the sheep but to make them like himself by bringing them into his relationship with his Father.  This is such an encouragement to us all.  We are not just dumb sheep – although sometimes we act that way – but rather are called to the same union with God the Father that Jesus, his son, has with him.  We see this close union played out in, of all people, St. Peter!  He had denied knowing Jesus, but, as we hear in Sunday’s first reading, he becomes Jesus’ greatest spokesman, declaring that the good deed he has done is actually the work of Jesus.



1 John 3:1 – 2


We hear again from John’s first letter.  These letters were written between 90 and 100AD and were written to address some conflicts in the early Christian community about the proper understanding of Jesus.  2 and 3 John appear to be really letters that come from “the Elder,” while 1 John seems to be a sermon.  But, the passage we hear on Sunday fills out the encouraging comment we hear in Sunday’s Gospel about our intimate relationship with God the Father; let’s examine it. 


1 See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.


See what love the Father has bestowed on us: The greatest sign of God’s love is the gift of his Son (John 3:16) that has made Christians true children of God. This relationship is a present reality and also part of the life to come; true knowledge of God will ultimately be gained, and Christians prepare themselves now by virtuous lives in imitation of the Son.  


2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.


When it is revealed: or “when he is revealed” (the subject of the verb could be Christ).  


All three readings this Sunday reflect on the power of Jesus: to lay down his life and raise it up again, to heal and to make us children of God.  As we continue to reflect on the significance of our Lord’s resurrection, we see how far reaching it is.  As we lay down our lives, they will be raised up again and we, healed of our sinful ways will be even more than children of God!