The audio below considers the background and contexts of the Scriptures of this Sunday’s Mass. Hopefully this will help you in meditating upon the scriptures, and in being open to the Holy Spirit speaking to you during Sunday Mass:
Click HERE to download the audio
Here’s an outline of the audio reflection:
1. The Gospel Reading of John 10:27-30
in the context of the whole chapter (John 10:1-42)
2. John 10:27-30 in the context of all three years’
Gospel Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
3. John 10:27-30’s immediate points
(about the Good Shepherd and His sheep)
in the context of the first broader truth proclaimed
(“The Father and I are one.”)
The transcript follows the sacred image below.
Abiding in the Word
The Fourth Sunday of Easter [Year C]
Acts 13:14,43-52 + Revelation 7:9,14-17 + John 10:27-30
May 12, 2019
“I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me.” That’s the Alleluia verse before the Gospel Reading for this Sunday, May 12, 2019: the Fourth Sunday of Easter [Year C].
That Alleluia verse is a slight paraphrase of John 10:14, which reads: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me”. Both the original verse and its paraphrase focus our immediate attention upon the relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep. But as we look at the broader context of today’s Gospel Reading, we find two other truths that demand our focus.
The Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter [Year C] is John 10:27-30. It’s a very brief passage. However, for the Christian who wants to meditate upon this passage well, the immediate context of these four verses leads readily to many themes of Eastertide and the Christian life. This immediate context is the first part of today’s podcast: this context is the chapter from which Sunday’s Gospel Reading is taken.
The tenth chapter of St. John’s account of the Gospel is 42 verses long. The chapter is one continuous narrative, in contrast to other chapters that present several narratives within the same chapter. At the same time, Chapter 10 is relatively self-contained.
That’s a good reason, then, to read the entire chapter of John 10 in preparation for Sunday Mass. The entire chapter presents a specific scene within John’s narrative of the Gospel. While it would take a long time to meditate thoroughly upon the entire chapter, we need to hear the context of this entire chapter in order to appreciate the four verses that make up this Sunday’s Gospel Reading.
Before looking closely at those verses, consider one other context of Sunday’s Gospel Reading. This broader context is the second part of the podcast. As you know, it takes three years for the Church to proclaim all the Scripture passages that she has chosen for Sunday Masses. After three years, the Church returns to the beginning of the three-year cycle of Scripture Readings.
During most of each of these three years, the Gospel Reading at Sunday Mass comes from one of the first three Gospel accounts. In the first year of the three-year cycle, the Gospel Reading usually comes from Matthew; in the second year, Mark; and in the third year, Luke.
However, the season of Eastertide is different. During each year of the three-year cycle of Scripture passages, the Gospel Readings at Sunday Mass during Easter are mostly taken from the Gospel according to St. John. The Sunday Gospel Readings during Easter differ from year to year during the three-year cycle (at least, for the most part). But each year’s Sunday Readings during Easter are taken almost exclusively from John.
What’s especially unusual about the Fourth Sunday of Easter is that in each year of the three-year cycle, the Gospel Reading comes from the same chapter of the Bible: the tenth chapter of John. That explains how this Fourth Sunday of Easter has a customary name—“Good Shepherd Sunday”—which applies no matter which year of the three-year cycle the Church is currently in.
So: in the first year of the three-year cycle, the Church’s Gospel Reading on the Fourth Sunday of Easter is John 10:1-10. In the second year, the Gospel Reading on the Fourth Sunday of Easter is John 10:11-18. In the third year—which corresponds to 2019—the Gospel Reading is John 10:27-30. Each of these Gospel Readings relates to the general theme of the Good Shepherd. This is another reason to read and meditate upon the entire chapter of John 10 in preparation for this Sunday’s Mass.
Turning, then, to this Sunday’s Gospel Reading—John 10:27-30—there are two immediate points that draw our attention. We can meditate profitably on these two together. But we shouldn’t limit our meditation to these two points, because there are two broader points that the first two are meant to lead us to. Several of these points make up the third and final part of this podcast.
The two immediate points of this Sunday’s Gospel Reading are, on the one hand, the person of the Good Shepherd, and on the other hand, the sheep that belong to the Good Shepherd. In immediate terms, Sunday’s Gospel Reading seems all about these two: the Good Shepherd and His sheep.
So when we meditate, we might consider this Good Shepherd, closing our eyes and using our imagination to sense what this Good Shepherd is like. Or, we might instead meditate upon what the sheep are like. Or there’s a third option: we might meditate upon how these two relate to each other. We might meditate upon how the Good Shepherd chooses to relate to His sheep, and how the sheep choose to relate to their Good Shepherd.
These immediate points are presented in the first of the Gospel Reading’s two parts. This part is only three sentences long. Several points are made about the Good Shepherd and His sheep. Jesus declares: “My sheep hear my voice; / I know them, and they follow me. / I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. / No one can take them out of my hand.”
We have several points for meditation here: the Good Shepherd’s voice; His knowledge of His sheep; the action of the sheep following the Shepherd; His gift of eternal life; and so on. We can take up any one of these for an extended period of time, meditating upon it and asking God by His grace to illuminate the ways in which it relates to our own spiritual lives.
Then comes the second part of Sunday’s Gospel Reading. These two sentences are more demanding. They add something so profound that we might lose our focus upon the Good Shepherd and His sheep. In these two sentences, Jesus—the Good Shepherd—speaks of His Father. The Good Shepherd reveals to us three truths about His Father. Jesus explains: first, “My Father… has given [the sheep] to me”; second, My Father “is greater than all”; and third, “no one can take [the sheep] out of the Father’s hand.”
Any of these three truths could serve as a point for meditation, adding to our previous meditation from the first part of Sunday’s Gospel passage. To whatever we had reflected upon about the relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep, we now have to add the Good Shepherd’s Father to the mix. If this seems too challenging for meditation, we can instead simply start by meditating upon the relationship between the Father and His Son.
Nonetheless, the divine Person of God the Father is the point to which the whole of Jesus’ preaching about the Good Shepherd leads. Sunday’s Gospel Reading is the conclusion of what we might call Jesus’ “Good Shepherd Sermon”, which is found in John 10:1-30. Sunday’s Gospel Reading concludes with the last verse of this sermon, where Jesus proclaims: “The Father and I are one.”
On the one hand, this profound statement seems to have moved our attention a long ways from the subject of the Good Shepherd and His relationship with His sheep. Yet on the other hand, we need to accept this as a challenge that Jesus is presenting to us. While we might meditate profitably simply by focusing upon what Jesus is like as a Good Shepherd, or upon what we are like as His sheep, or upon what the Good Shepherd’s voice consists of, and how we sheep ought to listen for it, we cannot ignore the fact that all such points for meditation are in the end stepping stones. All those points for meditation need finally to be related to Jesus’ final statement: “The Father and I are one.”
This broader point of God the Father, and how the Good Shepherd leads His sheep to His Father, has to be a goal for our meditation. Even if we start with—and find easier—meditating upon the Good Shepherd and His love for us who are His sheep, we cannot be content with that. Eventually, we have to take up the challenge of meditating upon God the Father. We have to meditate upon this divine Father as the goal of Jesus’ shepherding, and we have to meditate upon that truth by means of Jesus’ powerful statement: “The Father and I are one.”
Meditating upon the divine Person of God the Father will help us when we take up the second broader point of Sunday’s Gospel Reading, which is the Church. That point we’ll take up in the next podcast.