4th Sunday of Easter Year C
Theme of the week: In the face of persecution, let us hold steadfast to our faith, and subject ourselves to the care of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.
In the previous week’s Scripture, we heard how Peter and the disciples were persecuted, flogged, and ordered by the chief priest to stop proclaiming their faith. In this week’s Fist Reading, Paul and Barnabas encountered a similar fate. As Paul and Barnabas became more popular, they drew the jealousy of the Jews (verse 45). The Jews then incited the authority to stir up persecution against Paul and Barnabas (verse 50). In disgust, and as command by the Lord in Mt 10:14, Paul and Barnabas “shook the dust off their feet in protest against them” and left (verse 51).
When we work and speak in the Lord’s name, persecution is inevitable. The type of persecution Peter and the disciples suffered in the previous week’s text is the type most likely to originate from outside the faith community. In contrast, being persecuted out of jealousy, as faced by Paul and Barnabas in this week’s text, is most likely the type of persecution we face from within the faith community. This is the type of persecution that is most hurtful indeed. My brothers and sisters, let us take a moment to look deep in our hearts and reflect on our own lives. Ask ourselves this question: Have I persecuted others in my faith community out of jealousy? May be it was the time when I grew jealous when I am being outshone by others. Or may be it was the time when I am not getting the attention my work deserves. If so, have I in fact being a source of division in my community? Contrary to true spirit of ministry work, have I in fact been rejecting God through what I say and do?
The Second Reading describes a scene in heaven where a large number of martyrs, having died for their faith, gather around the throne of the Jesus. The martyrs are dressed in white (signifying purity) and held palms in their hands (signifying triumph). At this sight, we recall the scene of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem in Jn 12:12-15. As a continuation of the previous week’s message and an extension of the First Reading’s message of rejection, this scene reminds us that sufferings and rejection in this earthly life are only temporary. Disciples like Paul and Barnabas recognised this and preached without fear – and in so doing often putting themselves in harm’s way. These, and countless martyrs through our Church history, understood that it is better to hold steadfast to one’s faith, suffer in this life and enjoy eternal glory; than to reject God in this life and suffer eternal damnation.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the imagery of sheep farming, an imagery familiar to his audience, to describe the Kingdom of God. One of the greatest fears of being a sheep must have been the fear of being devoured and eaten by the wolf! In the context of salvation, we are the sheep and Satan is the wolf. Thankfully, we have Jesus as our Good Shepherd, who assures us that under His care, no one will snatch us out of his hand (verse 28). How reassuring! To receive His protection, we need to stay in the pan and subject ourselves to Him. Alas, that is not what we always do. Sometimes, we are lured from the safety of Jesus’ care to seek out ungodly pursuits – be it jealousy, greed or other evil intention. By simply being a member of a faith community does not confer us the right to salvation. The Saints and martyrs lived their lives as great examples for us, showing us that faith needs to be actively lived. Let us follow the examples of these great men and women. Amen.