4th SUNDAY OF EASTER(B) April 25, 2021
Acts 4: 8-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18
by Jude Siciliano, OP
With the recent spike in hospitalizations and deaths from the Corona virus in states across the country we are once again reminded of the heroic valor of emergency room medical staffs. Were we taking them for granted? Have we forgotten how much they have been giving of themselves and the sacrifices their families have made because they choose to respond to the desperate needs of members of the community? With the latest surge of critical cases we are reminded of what we owe them. Once again grateful neighbors are standing outside hospital emergency rooms cheering exhausted staff coming off duty and those entering for the next grueling shift. Modern day heroes for sure, who choose to risk their own health to save others. Their sacrifice benefits so many. As we watch, or read their stories of heroism do we wonder if we, in a similar situation, would respond so generously? Would we take the risks they take daily?
I wondered that once as a teenager as I stood on a stormy ocean beach watching a lifeguard my age rush into the turbulent waters to rescue a floundering man. If it weren’t for that lifeguard, willing to risk his own life, the man would have drowned. The memory of that lifeguard and current images of daily heroism by risk takers during the pandemic illuminate today’s gospel for me.
Five times in today’s brief passage Jesus says he "lays down his life" for us. He is ready and willing to give his life for his sheep. His sheep are threatened and he chooses not to be a bystander, but to confront death and save them.
If we are to be Jesus’ followers then we can not be bystanders when others are in need. Salvation is not just about me and my prayer life. We are a community and care of those in need is not just a job of a few professionals. Nor is the care of others just a matter of contributing to a "worthy cause" – as good and noble as that is. Following Jesus’ example and gifted by his Spirit, we are to be willing to give of our lives to serve others. We are not, as Jesus instructs, to be like the "hired hand" who flees when danger, or need threatens others.
If we can call it so, one of the "gifts" of this pandemic is the extraordinary sacrifices and gestures of hospitality shown to those in need by their neighbors. Strangers have become friends because they have reached out beyond the usual confines of their private lives. Isn’t that what Jesus encourages us to do – as he did – lay down our lives for others? After all, Jesus did not just offer his life as an example for us. His freely-chosen death also released us from our selfishness and privacy to do, in some way, what he did for others?
Jesus was not just a victim of harsh political and religious institutions, or circumstances beyond his control. While willing to give obedience to God’s will, still he was free to lay down his life – or not. Because of Jesus we also live in willing obedience to God’s will. In him we have a shepherd who knows each of us by name and loves us now, despite our wayward ways. He has willingly embraced each of us by laying down his life, taking it up again and sharing his risen life with us through his Spirit.
In our first reading Peter and John are defending their faith in the resurrected Christ before the religious authorities. They had healed a beggar at the gate of the Temple (Acts 3:1-10). Peter proclaimed that the healing came through the very God the people worshiped in the Temple before them. Their God had raised Jesus from the dead and in Jesus’ name the beggar was raised.
Now the two disciples are before the Sanhedrin’s religious authorities and Peter is defending what he did and in whose name he did it. The authorities can’t deny the miracle, there were witnesses to the event. But they want to know, "By what power, or in whose name have men of your stripe done this?"(4:7) When Peter and John stood before the religious authorities did they remember that Jesus had told them they would encounter opposition, but also that the Holy Spirit would be with them and tell them what to say? (Luke 12: 11-12 ) Jesus fulfilled his promise because Luke’s account in Acts begins: "Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said...."
It is called the "Acts of the Apostles," but as we read about the "acts" of the apostles, we realize we are really being invited to witness the "Acts of the Holy Spirit." We know of the previous dismal performance of the apostles from the four Gospels. But all has changed – they had changed – because in each of their wonderful preachings and healings, even before opponents, the promised Spirit was acting through them. Thus, the "Acts of the Holy Spirit."
We are not just casual readers of this account are we? No, we are people of faith being reminded that we too were beggars unable to heal and save ourselves. Then, through our baptism, new life was given us, healed beggars. We could stand up and move. Like Peter, who once healed in the name of Jesus, we too can "raise up" the downtrodden.
Who are they who need healing words and actions? Let us break the silence and speak loving and forgiving words to those nearest us in our own families. We have been locked up too long and in our frustration have said and done hurtful things to those closest to us. Break the silence. People around us are still isolated in their homes due to age, poverty, or illness. Let’s not pass them by, as Peter and John could have done on their way to pray. Instead reach out to them and break the silence.
There have been powerful, yet simple stories, about adults and children sending loving messages to a exhausted hospital staff. Let’s break the silence. We don’t have to look far these days for beggars. Like Peter and John we see, or pass them daily. They are near supermarkets, at food pantries, road crossings and living under highway overpasses. Can we share food with them, a smile and a kind word? Let’s break the silence. There are people in prisons and on death row, isolated by the virus and not allowed visitors. Some have been in prison so long they don’t even receive mail from their own families. Check the prisoners’ names below, send them a prayer message in Jesus’ name and break the silence.
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