4th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29 (22)
1 John 3:1-2
April 22, 2018
Peter becomes a bold preacher for Jesus. He faces questions and persecution but he is no longer afraid. When Jesus was arrested, Peter denied knowing him out of fear. Peter’s fear is no more.
What has changed?
We see part of the answer in the first line of today’s first reading. It describes Peter as “filled with the Holy Spirit.” One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage. Peter has received this gift.
Another part of the answer relates to other gifts of the Holy Spirit of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. In listening to Jesus during his public ministry, Peter gained some knowledge of Jesus’ mission. It is only after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, that, following Pentecost, Peter comes to understand all this.
Before Jesus’ death and Resurrection, Peter came to know Jesus as the Messiah but didn’t understand what that really meant. When Jesus first called Peter, Peter followed immediately but it is only now that Peter truly makes Jesus who had been rejected by others his cornerstone.
Peter was not the first to refer to the Lord as “the cornerstone.” We see this in our psalm today. When Jesus was arrested, Peter denied him because Peter was afraid of the humans. He was more concerned about what the humans could do than faith in Jesus. Now, he has come to put his trust in the Lord. Instead of trusting in “princes”, he now takes refuge in the Lord.
When I think about the words of Jesus that Peter heard before his passion that only come to full light in his death and resurrection, today’s gospel comes to mind.
It begins with Jesus identifying himself as the Good Shepherd and indeed he is. Jesus’ words continue with “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Peter could not possibly understand the full meaning of this until Jesus truly laid down his life for us in giving his life for us on the Cross.
Jesus is willing to do this because he knows this is what God sent him to do. It is his vocation.
Peter, on the other hand, initially is like the “hired hand” when he sees the “wolf” come and arrest Jesus. He runs and hides but he never abandons his faith in Jesus completely. He watched what happened from a distance.
Peter finds more faith when he sees Jesus risen and receives the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is only then that Peter truly embraces his vocation as the first among the Apostles.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter when, in all three years of our Lectionary cycle of readings, we hear from chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, which is known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. So, this Sunday is sometimes referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
Based on what I have already said about “vocation”, today is also the “World Day of Prayer for Vocations.”
We are all called by God to be his witnesses in this world. This is the common vocation of all of us. For instance, when we hear Jesus’ words, “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” we might think of parents who do so much for their children.
However, on this “World Day of Prayer for Vocations”, our Church invites us to think about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It is no secret that we have far fewer priests than in years past. The number of religious has shrunk even more.
We live in a world that places focus on self. The idea of being willing to lay down one’s life for one is being lost. It doesn’t always mean crucifixion. For a parent, it means giving up some of what they might want for themselves in possessions and time to for the sake of their children.
People today often blame the priest shortage on the fact that priests cannot marry. I might agree that for some men, not being able to marry is the reason they do not seek to be priests. However, I don’t think priests should be allowed to marry. I cannot envision being a good priest, a good husband, and a good father. As a priest, I “lay down my life” in the sense of not having a family of my own for the sake of the church family. Being a priest for me is not just a job to fit in my life. It is my life.
Likewise, fewer people are entering religious life. Those in religious life lay down life in the way society seeks it for self-gratification, wealth, and power to put Jesus at the front. While there are not many entering religious life today, I believe those who are can be a powerful witness against the worldly life lived by so many.
I hope that all of you see a witness value in those who lay down their lives to be priests and religious. It is a vocation that doesn’t make sense to everyone but it is a vocation that comes from God.
Because it doesn’t make sense to the world, it is not a popular choice today and that makes it all the harder. That’s why I ask that you regularly pray for those who are called by God to priesthood and religious life, hear the call, and have the courage to respond.