I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me John 10:14
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
At the heart of the Easter Mystery is the reality that believers become the sign of the risen Christ by the way they live. The change in their lives becomes visible to others who are attracted to the same risen Lord Jesus. This first reading is a report of that taking place on the Jewish Pentecost which then becomes for us the Christian Pentecost at the conclusion of the Easter Season. This year, due to the alternation in our lives because of the pandemic, our Pentecost celebration looks as though it will be the out coming of our Easter faith. This revelation of the Spirit in our lives portends to be a major event in our journey of faith — something we shall never forget.
So to get the full impact of this word of God today let us first recall the events of that day in our salvation history. This means the deeds of God and the words of God through Peter explaining the events and how God’s actions make Easter for us (even though it happens on another day — Easter is God working in our lives over several days, at least 50 or more).
First, this happens on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, which celebrates God giving the Covenant Law on Mt. Sinai
God gathers the disciples in one place
There is the “wind” and “fire” of God’s presence like it was on Mt. Sinai
The tongues of fire are the individual giving of God’s Spirit and word to each one.
The crowd gathers outside and Peter addresses them to explain.
He tells that the Spirit given to the disciples was the Spirit the Father gave to his Son by raising him from the dead. Thus the Father acknowledged Jesus as his eternal Son, Lord (who does not die) and as the Messiah (who is the fulfillment of the Covenant and its promise to us).
Our reading today takes it up from there when the listeners ask Peter what they should do about this action taken by the Father. His instructions are:
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ
for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.
Be baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah. In other words, renew the Covenant through the Christ raised from the dead. The risen Lord is the Mediator, appointed by the Father, for solidifying the Covenant with mankind and thus bringing us eternal life.
For forgiveness of sin — is a negative way of saying the positive be reconciled to the God of the Covenant by living Christ’s life to the fullest.
Finally, do so and you, too, will receive the same Spirit of God (Holy Spirit) which you now see in the disciples.
And they did.
Do not forget that Peter himself is speaking because he has received the Holy Spirit. His word is God’s word.
Psalm23: 1-3a, 3b4, 5, 6 (1)
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Every time we come across this psalm or use it in our liturgies there is a warm feeling that comes over us. Even Hollywood stars record it or recite it as a masterpiece that pleases the public. We, too, find it frequently a part or our funerals. There is something, almost magical, about it.
Here remember it is a responsorial to Peter’s call to be baptized into the community of the Covenant, God’s people, the Church. Psalm 23 is originally Old Testament (Covenant) and expresses the relationship of our God to us as a shepherd to his flock. All that goes with this imagery: e.g. keeping the flock together (unity), walking out front and leading the flock in the right direction, sustaining the flock with good nourishment, caring for his flock’s every need, protecting the flock from harm and scattering. With the divine Shepherd performing all these task the flock has confidence in him and takes comfort from that fact. Our Shepherd does everything for us out of covenant love and mercy. Going along with the word of God from Peter we know that Jesus, the Son of the eternal Father, is Shepherd. He even called himself The Good Shepherd. Jesus does everything his Father the Shepherd does. We believe him and we recite or sing this psalm with all that in mind.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
Collect (alternate version)
Lord, you have shown your limitless power as our God who lives forever by raising your Son from the dead. Exercise your Shepherd’s love by leading us to the companionship of your flock filled with heavenly joy, so that the world may come to believe that Christ our Shepherd has gone before us stoutheartedly and with resolve to take to himself his flock who humbles themselves before him.
Jesus the Good Shepherd is present at our Masses. The characteristics of God as our Shepherd fit in very well. So our Eucharists are gatherings of Shepherd and his flock. That relationship is throughout the Mass. The emphasis of this prayer is that he is our leader who feeds us that we share more and more of “heaven” right here on the earth. The prayer is also based on where he is leading us. We call it heaven but we know from Peter discourse on the Feast of Pentecost what God has in store for us. The original prayer of the Church speaks of the joy of heaven but the companionship of heavenly joys. So rather than picturing it as sitting on a cloud of bliss it describes the joyful community of those in covenant with God. This is be more in accord with Peter’s Pentecost. Flock and Shepherd in communion all going in the same direction as the Messiah of glory at the right hand of the Father. Union with Christ and unity among the flock would be truly heaven.
1 Peter 2:20b-25
This passage ends up: For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. There being so many other references at this Mass about the Lord as our Shepherd we naturally perk up our ears as soon as we hear this. Then we remember that Peter earlier had said: Christ suffered for you (on the cross out of love) and has left you an example that; you should follow in his footsteps. So Jesus our Messiah and Shepherd leads us and gathers us together. We are united to him and united to one another (see above). How does he lead us? Through the merciful love of the Covenant. Jesus is the Covenant Shepherd filled with love to the extent that he would lay down his life for his sheep so that they be rid of all sinfulness and live solely for holiness (godliness). This is how Peter saw life, life in Christ and did his best with the grace of God to be a shepherd of Christ’s people. He lived what he preached — because of the gift of the Holy Spirit from his Lord Jesus Christ.
John gives us two parables, used by Jesus to help the Pharisees (and us) accept that he was sent by God as the Messiah of the Covenant. The Gospel says that the Pharisees did not understand because in a way they did not want to understand. We must be careful that the same thing does not happen to us because we refuse to accept what he telling about us.
The Pharisees thought of themselves as the “religious shepherds” of the people, God’s flock. Jesus said: I am the shepherd and the gate…no one comes to the Father but through me. In calling himself the shepherd he says that he replaces them as shepherds (religious leaders). The Father has determined this by sending his Son in to the world. Christ the Shepherd is the only “gate” of way to the Father. There is no other mediator. This was contrary to the thinking of the Pharisees, who in many cases were self-righteous. They blocked out the word of God spoken to them by the Word of God. Therefore for the Pharisees of ages past as well as for the people of our time it is necessary to accept the one sent by God who is the only way to the Father.
What about us? Jesus indicates the proper attitude and approach to the divine Shepherd — the sheep hear his voice. So we who believe and follow him must listen to him speak and, as our duty as Easter Christians, must be the ones who bring the Shepherd’s words to the world. If the world does not accept the Messiah sent by the Father, we must strive more diligently to speak to them in such a way, with love and pardon, that they will accept the word of God. We must be the true voice of the Shepherd for the world. We can only do this by listening to the word of God ourselves and going deep into understanding it. The chief way is by participating in the Eucharist — the entire Mass.
Commentary Easter Sunday