We are praying under the influence of the Easter graces. Enthusiasm does
not always accompany these graces. Fidelity during the flat, dull and cloudy
times is the fruitfulness of being so graced.
We pray these days to be faithful when we, ourselves, or others resist the
truth of our belonging to God. We can pray with the memories of how God has
accompanied us through all the changing weather patterns of our years. Easter
is not a “high” but an invitation to keep rising, risking, and restoring
life to this world. We hear his voice; we become his words.
We continue listening to the activities of the early church from The Acts
of the Apostles in our First Reading. Paul and Barnabas have moved out from
Jerusalem and run into opposition from the Jewish religious leaders who are
jealous at the crowds attending Paul’s preaching. These leaders are being
faithful to their Jewish traditions and Paul and Barnabas are being faithful
to the tradition they are handing over. The two traditions are meeting in
the synagogue in Antioch. There results a conflict between the Jews and those
of the New Way. A turn in the road occurs here as Paul announces that the
word of God came first to the Jews and now is to be shared beyond the confines
of the Jewish tradition. The joy and excitement of Paul and his followers
is that they are experiencing the same resistance and treatment, as did Jesus.
They move on, as will be their mission and that of the church they are forming.
We hear four short, but powerful verses from John’s Gospel today. The theme
centers around the truth, “To whom do we belong?” Jesus claims us as his
flock who have heard his voice. We belong to Jesus to whom the Father has
given us and no one can take us out of his hands. No one can take us out
of the Father’s hands either, for Jesus and the Father are “one.”
In the Third Cannon or series of prayers which form the main section of the
Eucharistic Liturgy, the celebrant prays, “May he make us an everlasting
gift to you Father…” What a wonderful prayerful picture! Each of us is a
gift from the Father to the Son and then the Son offers us back to the father.
God created us then to belong to God’s family in a great gift-exchange or
Paul and Barnabas were parts of this “free for all” and as such offered themselves
as gifts from the Father through the Son and moved by the Spirit. This does
not mean the gifts will always be acknowledged, appreciated or accepted.
The Early Church was enthused to share what they had heard and taken inside.
Once inside they had to take it outside. Through the centuries following
and even to our time, the resistance remains, but so does the Spirit, the
Church and the “outsiding.”
Gifts are a great way to communicate. Things like flowers, sweaters and candy
do not say anything by themselves; they just are. The giver has to accept
their value as related to the sentiment the giver wishes to extend. An accompanying
note indicates or specifies the gift’s true worth and meaning.
God gave Jesus to the world as a gift. He accepted his gifthood and lived
gratefully every moment of his life, including the last ones on the cross.
Those who came to believe in Jesus were invited to accept his gifthood to
them and, of course, their gifthood in him as well. In our believing him
and believing in him, we are called to hear and believe all that he, as gift,
says about us as the recipients.
If you follow all this, then you are heading “outside.” Unlike the flowers
and candy, each of us has to accept ourselves as gifts from God before
we can hand over that gift to his flock. As grateful as we might be and enthusiastic
about being a gift from God, going outside will be dangerous!
We, as members of his company, are offered to this same world, as was Jesus,
as were Paul and Barnabas. It seems resistance to the “good” validates rather
than discredits the gift of the “good.” Though the flowers of Easter may
have faded and the chocolate Easter Eggs are memories, the Christian tradition
of handing over ourselves as gifts from the Father to Jesus and from Jesus
to this world remains. What remains also is our fear and inferiority to be
considered and sent. What remains as well is the world which does not
appreciate or accept God’s goodness or ours. We hear the Shepherd’s voice
and we need to hear it often lest we forget who he says we are.
The Good Shepherd is risen! He who laid down
his life for his sheep,
who died for his flock, he is risen, Alleluia.”