Paul and Barnabas went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down, . When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Geniles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing for joy. (R./)
Know that he, the Lord, is God.
He made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the sheep of his flock. (R./)
Indeed, how good is the Lord,
eternal his merciful love.
He is faithful from age to age. (R./)
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that nobody could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
And Jesus said to his disciples: "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and nobody can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."
Notice the urgency of Paul and Barnabas in preaching the gospel, according to the Acts of the Apostles. They disregarded every attempt on the part of the Jews to put a stop to them. Threats did not stop them, and whether their message was welcomed or not, they seem to be driven on by an inner God-given sense of mission to share their faith in Jesus. This fits well with the Gospel about the Good Shepherd, who calls people to follow him to salvation. The church invites us today to pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, bearing in mind that vocations and handing on the faith are closely linked. We believe that God is love, that God is goodness. But love and goodness need to be communicated to others, "in season and out of season."
The Holy Spirit inspired the early Church in abundance, and they in turn felt compelled to share their faith with others. When the first missionaries passed on, there was no scarcity of others to take their place. It was this willingness on the part of some to devote their lives to the gospel that kept the church alive and spreading. There is no doubting the missionary zeal of the early Church, nor that of the Irish people during those past centuries when monks and missionaries from these shores spread throughout Europe the ideals of loving God and living together in harmony and peace.
It is within the context of family that most vocations are nurtured. The French Jesuit, scientist and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, once said, "I come from a family where I became who I am. The great majority of my opinions, of my likes and dislikes, of my values and appreciations, of my judgments, my behaviour, my tastes, were moulded by the family I came from." For this reason parents remain, and always will remain, the first and most important teachers of the faith to their children. In fulfilling this role they should strive to make prayer, daily family prayer, a natural part of life within the home. By so doing, they will most certainly be sowing the seeds of those vocations which in the providence of God will be necessary to minister to the spiritual needs of the next generation. Such vocations, however, must also be seen in the context of the whole spiritual life, the spiritual values, the spiritual aspirations of the community in which they are nurtured.
Just as God called some to be his special people, so has he called you and me into his service. What I do, what I am, concerns others too. On this special Sunday, we need to ask God's blessing, that volunteers may not be lacking for continuing Christ's work. His wish for his disciples was quite explicit, "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he may send labourers to his harvest" (Mt 9:37).
Jesus often illustrated his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep. He sees himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. Today's gospel considers the relationship between Jesus the Good Shepherd and the sheep. The imagery is old. The message is topical. It is relevant to us. By faith we accept Jesus, Our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God's unbreakable love and faithfulness.
In order to gain eternal life, the ultimate benefit of our new existence, we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to attune our minds to the sound of his voice. We have to allow him to lead our steps in the path he has shown. We could reflect on whether we are doing that. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. The easy option can cause us to wander into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. There is no need for anxiety. God is faithful. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who displayed his unbreakable faithfulness to Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.
Paul and Barnabas 'spoke out boldly', and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord.
Recent popes have often urged us to take persoal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.
John's vision depicts the happiness of heaven. Our departed sisters and brothers, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom, now see God face to face. They rejoice in his presence with total peace and love. We are still on our pilgrim way. The resurrection gives us firm ground for hoping that we will eventually share their happiness. Even now we are united with them in the communion of saints. The liturgy we are celebrating and the heavenly liturgy portrayed by John form two parts of one canticle of praise. We offer it through the glorious and triumphant Christ to the One who sits on the throne.
Jesus illustrates his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep, seeing himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. It's about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Though the imagery is old, the message is topical. It is relevant to us here and now. . By faith we accept Jesus, and our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God's unbreakable love and faithfulness.
In order to enter eternal life we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to tune our minds to the sound of his voice. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. Easy options can draw us into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. But God is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who kept faith with Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.
Paul and Barnabas 'spoke out boldly', and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord. Our faith urges us to take personal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.
"Good Shepherd Sunday" is a time to think and pray about how priestly ministry the catholic church will fare into the future. If the average age of ordained priests is about seventy, it urgently calls for significant change in how we recruit priests for the future, and what is to be expected of them. Remember, there is no such thing as a priest-less parish. "There may not be an ordained priest as is the practice at present, but the parish is a priestly people. How will this take flesh in the coming decades? Are there factors which had value in the past which now are an obstacle to the mission of the church? What new model of ministerial priesthood is called for?" (Padraig McCarthy). Fr. McCarthy put the challenge into three questions that are worth examining today:
1) Who will shepherd our church in the coming years?
2) How will those shepherds reach out to those outside the fold?
3) What needs to change in the Church, so that each community can have the Eucharist every Sunday?
The image of the Good Shepherd and our responsibility to shepherd one another suggest the special kind of relationship Jesus taught us about. The power of Jesus was not the power to dominate, to bully or boss people around. That kind of power is illustrated by the story of the captain of a destroyer who saw a light ahead and notified the radio signalman to order the approaching ship to change its course 20 degrees to the south. A message came back: 'You change your course 20 degrees to the north.' The captain sent another message: 'Change your course . . . I am Captain Cunningham.' The message came back: 'Change your course . . . I am Michael Jones, Able Seaman.' Finally, the angry captain sent a third message: 'Change your course right away. Can't you see I am a destroyer.' The answer came back: 'Change your course right away. Can't you see I am a lighthouse.' The lighthouse man had the authority of the truth!
On Good Shepherd Sunday, as we focus on pastoral care of each other we might pray that more will feel drawn to the priesthood and religious life. If we, as Church, put more emphasis on relational power rather than dominant power, would more people be willing to take on that kind of shepherding relationship? The challenge is for all parishioners to somehow be shepherds to one another. This involves the effort to learn the names of individuals who join in worship with us, so as to be able to greet them by name and make them really welcome.
The Good Shepherd knows each of us by name, and calls us by name. The more we build a family relationship in the parish, the more we will get to know the ones who would be good shepherds. We might then quietly approach them to take on whatever leadership role in the Church is needed today.
The spiritual reward for staying close to our Good Shepherd is described in the Book of Revelation: "They will never hunger or thirst again. For the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water." As we receive this Good Shepherd in Holy Communion, we trust him to lead us to that living water and bless us with a closer relationship with him personally, and with others in his name.
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
"Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honour me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise."
When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs. (R./)
The heathens themselves said:
'What marvels the Lord worked for them!'
What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad. (R./)
Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap. (R./)
They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing.
They come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves. (R./)
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."
They bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They all know her fate: be stoned to death according to what's written in the law. No one talks about the adulterous man involved. As always happens in a sexist society, the woman gets condemned and the man walks free. Their challenge to Jesus is head-on: "In the law, Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?" Jesus opposes such social hypocrisy fed by male arrogance. Such sentencing to death doesn't come from God. With admirable audacity, he brings in truth, justice and compassion all together in the judgment of the adulterous woman: "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her".
The accusers go away shamefaced. They know that they are the ones most responsible for the adulteries committed in that society. Then Jesus directs himself to the woman who has just escaped execution and with great tenderness and respect, tells her: "Neither do I condemn you". He encourages her to make her gift of forgiveness the starting point for a new life: "Go away, and from this moment on, sin no more".
That's how Jesus is. Finally there is in the world someone who hasn't let himself be conditioned by any oppressive law or power; a free and magnanimous one who never hated or condemned, never returned evil for evil. In his defense and his forgiveness of this adulterous woman there is more truth and justice than in our resentful demands and condemnations.
We Christians haven't yet managed to unpack all the consequences in Jesus' liberating action in the face of this woman's oppression. Working in a Church that is directed and inspired mostly by men, we often fail to be aware of all the injustices that women keep suffering in all areas of life. One theologian spoke a few years ago about the revolution ignored by Christianity.
We still live in a society where women often cannot move about freely without fear of men. Rape, physical abuse, humiliation aren't imaginary things. On the contrary, they form perhaps the most deeply rooted violence and the one that causes the most suffering. Doesn't the suffering of women need to echo more strongly and more concretely in our church celebrations, and have a more important place in our work of social conscience-raising? Above all, don't we need to be closer to each oppressed woman in order to denounce abuses, offer an intelligent defense and effective protection? [J A Pagola]
What do we make of the Pharisees in today's gospel story? They caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her into the Temple precincts, thronged with people, to shame her as publicly as possible. Then they wanted to carry out the death penalty as laid down in the Torah, namely death by stoning. As an added extra, they wanted to use the occasion to discredit Jesus in the eyes of his followers. "What have you to say?" they demand of him. If his response was simply, "Leave the woman along; let her go free," they could accuse him of condoning adultery. But if he agreed with their sentence, he would be seen as lacking in mercy. Jesus saw through their plotting and made them withdraw in confusion.
An intriguing question is what did Jesus write with his finger on the ground. The Gospel gives us a possible clue. It does not use the normal Greek word for "write" (graphein), but a compound word (kata-graphein) which means to draw up a condemnation. Possibly he may have listed on the ground some common sins against humanity, to make them think. At any rate, his challenge that the person who was without sin should cast the first stone met with no response. Although Jesus did not condemn the woman, neither did he excuse what she had done. "Don't sin any more," was both a pardon and a warning to her.
Like the Pharisees, we may be tempted to think of God as being in our own image and likeness, as a stern and punitive God, who can be persuaded to forgive only after our abject repentance. This kind of religion can be cold and loveless. And as St Paul says in the 2nd Reading, trying to relate to God just by strictly keeping the Law is an obsolete kind of religion. Only when we let God's love, as seen in Christ, to embrace and change our heart, can we begin togrow.
To judge from today's gospel, the worst of the seven deadly sins seems to be not lust, but pride. The Pharisees' proud self-righteousness left them feeling no need to ask God for mercy. Like the woman in danger, we need to admit our own sins and pray for mercy rather than condemn others. Even when we fail in our ideals, we trust in the mercy God extends to the sinner. For even our sins make no difference to God's enduring love for us.