To view the readings, click here. (Lectionary: 51)
Central Idea: Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are his lambs.
Acts 13:14, 43-52
- Christ came into the world in the fullness of time.
- Part of why this was such a good time for God to carry out his plan of salvation was that his Chosen People, the Jews, had been preparing the Roman Empire for this very message.
- Jews lived in every city of the Empire, making up an estimated ten percent of the population.
- Many Gentiles learned about the One, True God, the Sacred Scriptures, the Mosaic Law, and the Covenants from them.
- They made direct converts, as Acts mentions.
- There were also “righteous Gentiles,” also called “proselytes at the gates,” people who were attracted to Judaism but were not ready to live as Jews.
- Thus, Paul and the other Apostles found a ready-made audience for the Gospel.
- Paul and Barbabus were able to fulfill Isaiah’s words about God’s messenger bringing light to the Gentiles. This is what Paul and Barnabus were doing:
I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.
- Nevertheless, this took courage, as they faced constant rejection.
Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5
- We are God’s people, the sheep of his flock.
- Is being a flock of sheep such a good analogy for being a member of the Church?
- If we are humbly honest, we will admit that most of us for most of our lives are not that smart, not that strong, not that brave, have enemies who would hurt us, are made to live together in a community, and need a strong and good protector who loves us.
- If Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd, I’ll be happy to be one of his sheep. How about you?
Rev 7:9, 14b-17
- John’s vision is a picture of heaven.
- Some people think only a few people are saved. But John sees “a great multitude, which no one could count.”
- The salvation of Christ, the Good Shepherd and Lamb of God, is universal not in the sense that everyone is saved (since some refuse) but that it is not exclusive to any one people. It can include any human being, for the crowd John sees is made up of persons of “every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
- They wear “white robes” and hold “palm branches,” symbols of their redemption from sin and death.
- John describes heaven negatively, which is appropriate after a “time of great distress”: No hunger, thirst, oppressive heat, or tears.
- Some humorists, cynics, nihilists, and atheists argue that heaven doesn’t sound very fulfilling since the redeemed “stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple,” making heaven a perpetual church service.
- A point in the Catechism about the heavenly liturgy can be eye-opening.
“Liturgy is an “action” of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast.” (CCC 1136)
- In other words, liturgy is the activity of the Body of Christ. We celebrate the heavenly liturgy here on earth with signs. In heaven this activity will be direct. The Catechism tells us it will be “wholly communion and feast.” It means being together with your family and having a better celebration than you can ever imagine. In heaven, your “family” includes God, the angels, your loved ones, really everyone who is loveable.
- When our Lord says no one can “take” his own sheep out of his hand and no one can “take” them out of the Father’s hand, he is referring to wolves snatching sheep, or thieves and robbers, or dangerous strangers who want to harm us.
- Jesus spoke these words in the Temple in Jerusalem to Jewish men who knew and practiced their faith. Many of them wanted to stone Christ to death for blasphemy, for making himself equal to God. Consider the meaning of Our Lord’s words:
“I give them eternal life.”
“The Father and I are one.”
- The Jewish authorities would be right to be furious with Jesus, except that he was telling the truth.
- If Jesus’ words are true—we believe they are—then we are not just going to get eternal life. Rather, we already have eternal life, even if we have to struggle and to pass through physical death. If we have eternal life, eternal life has already begun. Then just what are we afraid of? If we stay close to Christ, who can really harm us?
- This earth is a dangerous place, because it is filled with wolves: Thieves, murderers, liars of every kind. But we are in the safe sheepfold. The sheepfold is the Church. We can go out into the fields, into the world, and be safe, because our shepherd is the Good Shepherd.
Doctrine: The virtue of courage
- We may be Christ’s lambs, but we ought to be courageous lambs. Maybe even lambs with the hearts of lions.
- Courage is first a natural, human virtue which any person can develop by practice.
- Courage is doing the right thing even though one is afraid, like Marines who are trained to run toward the sound of gunfire. Cowardice is the lack of courage, such that one does not do the right thing out of fear, like the teenager who does not go to the prom with the girl of his dreams because he is too afraid to ask her. Courage also has a warped excess called foolhardiness in which one takes crazy risks unnecessarily, like supposed followers of Christ who tell themselves mortal sins are not mortal sins, or not even sins at all, and then commit them.
- For the Baptized, courage is a supernatural virtue. One reason is that “the right thing” to do for a Christian should always be what God wants done. Another is that God helps us accomplish what we otherwise could not with his grace.
- Paul and Barnabus, as Apostles, were doing the right thing, what God wanted them to do, which was to bring the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles to the ends of the earth, despite how dangerous this was to do.
Practical Application: Growing in Courage
- What am I afraid of which keeps me from doing what I should? Do I tend to be more fearful or reckless? A first step to growing in courage is to get to know yourself and what God is asking you. Thus, vocation (married or single) and roles (employer, student, parent) are also important in self-knowledge.
- Our Faith promises us that nothing truly bad can ever really happen to us if we stay united to Christ, our good shepherd, because he has already given us eternal life. Still, we experience lesser and greater fear all the time while we are in the world.
- Make an inventory of tasks you are normally supposed to perform and situations you often face which make you even a little afraid or which you attack with recklessness.
- Examples of scary things could be driving on the freeway, making sales calls, telling your spouse something unwelcome, correcting or disciplining children, or making a customer complaint.
- Examples of foolhardiness might be speeding, not following directions, being argumentative with people in authority, or not checking ratings on movies before starting them.
- Don’t be surprised if your examples only fall into one column or the other.
- Then take small steps. Choose something which is the right thing to do and then do it. If it is to make a phone call (cowardliness), do it immediately, as early as possible, rather than putting it off and then not doing it. If it is not speeding (foolhardiness), set the cruise control. In both cases, offer the act to God. “God, I’m making this phone call for you.” “God, I’m not passing people up for you.”