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The Pastor of the Life and the Mercenaries of Death

Lectio Divina: 4th Sunday of Easter, Year C

 

Roman Rite

Fourth Sunday of Easter or of Divine Mercy – Year C – April 17, 2016

Acts 13,14.43-52; Ps 100; Rev 7,9.14-17; Jn 10, 27-30

 Ambrosian Rite

Acts 21,8b-14; Ps 15; Phil 1.8 to 14; Jn 15: 9-17.

 

Foreword

In St. John’s Gospel Christ speaks of himself as the Bread of Life (chapter 6), the Light of the world (chapter 8) and, in today’s short text (chapter 10), as the Good Shepherd.

To understand this image, which was clear in the past times and for members of the rural world, but not so obvious to those who now live in urban areas, it is useful to recall that at the time of the earthly life of Christ, at nightfall, the shepherds were leading their flocks in a large common enclosure to spend the night. In the morning every shepherd shouted his special cry and the sheep, recognizing the voice, followed him out of the pen faithfully and without any mistakes.

1) The true shepherd lays down his life.

The figure of the shepherd and the flock to which Jesus is inspired, is found already in the Old Testament. Yahweh is the shepherd who feeds his flock (Is 40:11), and throughout history, entrusts it to his servants Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, and the kings of Israel. The latter, however, often have not fulfilled their task and Ezekiel, in a text that was read during the Feast of Dedication, utters the famous oracle: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! … Behold, I myself will look after my sheep,…,I will bring back the lost sheep; I bandage the wounded and heal the sick… I will appoint over them one shepherd who will feed them “(Ez 34: 1, 11, 16, 23).

Here is the realization of this prophecy: centuries later, during the Feast of Dedication, Jesus describes himself as the true Good Shepherd, who finally takes care with love of the flock of Israel. Unlike the mercenary, who does not care for the sheep, He, the true Shepherd, knows those who belong to him, takes care of them with love and they listen to his voice.

To know and to listen are verbs that indicate a profound dialogue, a communion in living, not only in ideas. Therefore, between Jesus, the Shepherd, and his disciples, the sheep that the Father has given him, there is a deep communion. Jesus is the Shepherd because gives (= offers) his life for his sheep to give them eternal life. No one can pull them away from him.

Nobody, neither angels nor men, neither life nor death, neither the present nor the future, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, the Apostle Paul keeps telling us(see. Rom 8, 38). The strength and consolation of this absolute word, “no one”, immediately is doubled, “will pull  them away”. The verb in not in the present but in the future to indicate the entire history, as long as the “time” of God. Man, every “human sheep” is, for Christ, an eternal passion.

For all and for each sheep he has “paid” with his life and he holds them with the love that led like a lamb to the slaughter. The Good Shepherd is at the same time the Lamb. Thus we read in John 2:36: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”, and so reveals the Apocalypse: “The Lamb will be their shepherd and will guide them to the fountains of the waters of life” (Rev 7:17). Jesus carries out its vocation as a shepherd who guides and keeps his sheep, not from without, but from within the human condition of weakness and testing, symbolized by the lamb. He shared it all the way, up to the death on the cross. Living it with love, he has brought forth a possibility of a full and eternal life.

The fact that this Lamb, Jesus, is identified with the Shepherd is because no one can drive to the sources of life if he does not become a model for the flock. This Guide, which leads the sheep to the pasture of life, is the Lamb that was slain because he loves his sheep individually (of each one he knows the name and cares for it) and expresses the communion between Jesus and his disciples, people involved in their entirety: intelligence, heart, way of being and acting.

2) To listen to and to follow the One who know us.

In today’s short Gospel passage, Jesus, the Good Shepherd-Lamb shows two features of his sheep: listening and following. Therefore, if we want to be salt and light even in a changing world, we should not primarily wearing ourselves in research and various projects: the voice of Jesus has already sounded and the direction of his path has been already traced. To us, individually and in communion with one another, it is required first of all the loyalty to his presence to bring into the world.

We, the sheep, listen to Christ because He alone has words of eternal life, a full life, a life that does not die, and humbly follow him because we know that we are loved by him. He today and until the end of time, presents himself as an inexhaustible source of life: “I give them eternal life.” To enter into a relationship with Him is to enjoy life in its fullness: in weakness, in sin, in pain, in violence, He is the offer of Love. He first, in his human condition, experienced that even in death there is a love that gives back life. He is the only gift of love that does not abandon anyone, the gift of life that does not die, the strongest gift of Love, stronger even than death.

This Love, to be known, requires that our heart is committed. We do really know only the One Whom we love. It is love that is able to go beyond all evidence. It is a knowledge from within, It is a knowledge of the Being. It is a knowledge in the Love. The Good Shepherd is also asking to be heard. In listening the mind, intelligence and the virtue of obedience are engaged. The real listening becomes obedience which involves following.

In the following is committed the will able to move our feet behind the One we listen to and love. By following Him our steps do not falter. He will take us to green pastures, even if we were to go through a dark valley …  we will not fear because he is with us (see Ps 24).

This going after Christ, the Good Shepherd, has a spousal dimension. The theme of the bridal alliance enriches that of the Good Shepherd to follow by living with a profound unity.

In the Old Testament (see Hosea 1-3; Isaiah 54 and 62; Jer 2:03; Ez 16:23; Mal 2: 13-17; Ruth, Tobit, the Song of Songs), to express the relationship between God and the people the image of the spousal alliance is often used.

Even in the New Testament, it is described this nuptial covenant and the theme of Christ the Bridegroom emerges especially in the Parables of the Kingdom (see Mt 22: 2; 25: 1; Lk 12, 38). No wonder, then, that Paul has used to the image to illustrate the spousal relationship between Christ and the Christian community: “For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor 11: 2).

Of this covenant Saint Paul has highlighted the absolute fidelity of God: “Although we are unfaithful, he will remain faithful” (2 Tim 2: 13); “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11: 29; 1.9)

A specific and special way of following Christ, Shepherd and Spouse, is that of the consecrated Virgins in the world. This women testify with the total gift of self and with the total acceptance of Christ that the spousal love between Christ and the Church is recognizable from what the One does to the Others. Christ gives all for her – his flesh – cleansing it, and sanctified it with the baptismal font, and the Word, loving her as his own body,  fed (Eucharist, wedding banquet) and cared (under the guidance of the Good Shepherd).

In this regard are illuminating the words that the Pope Emeritus addressed to them on the occasion of their 2008 congress. Benedict XVI, alluding to the theme “A gift in the Church and for the Church,” said, “In this light, I wish to confirm you in your vocation and call you to grow day by day in the understanding of a charism as bright and fruitful in the eyes of faith, as dark and useless for those of the world. ” And he added: “Your life is a special witness of charity and visible sign of the future Kingdom (see Rite of Consecration of Virgins, 30). Make sure that your person always irradiate the dignity of being the bride of Christ, express the novelty of Christian existence and the serene expectation of future life. With your righteous life, you will be stars that guide the path of the world. “

The consecrated Virgins testify that there are not two loves, the divine and the human, but only two aspects of the same love. Therefore, it is fair to say that spousal love and virginal love are two faces of the only love of Jesus Christ.

These women are wives to belong, in the pure and exclusive bridal love, solely to Christ the Bridegroom (chastity), to be guided by Christ the Good Shepherd (obedience) and to rely solely on Christ the Lord (poverty).

Patristic Reading

Saint Augustine of Hyppo (354 -430)

Tractate XLVIII.

On Jn 10,22-42.

 

  1. As I have already charged you, beloved, you ought steadfastly to bear in mind that Saint Jn the evangelist would not have us be always nourished with milk, but fed with solid food. Still, whoever is hardly able as yet to partake of the solid food of God’s word, let him find nourishment in the milk of faith; and the word which he cannot understand, let him not hesitate to believe. For faith is the deserving: understanding, the reward. In the very labor of intent application the eye of our mind struggles1 to get rid of the foul films of human mists, and be cleared up to the word of God. Labor, then, will not be declined if love is present; for you know that he who loves his labor is insensible to its pain. For no labor is grievous to those who love it. If cupidity on the part of the avaricious endures so great toils, what in our case will not love endure?

 

  1. Listen to the Gospel: “And it was at Jerusalem the Encoenia.”2 Encoenia was the festival of the dedication of the temple. For in Greek kainos means new; and whenever there was some new dedication, it was called Encoenia.3 And now this word is come into common use; if one puts on a new coat, he is said “encoeniare” (to renovate, or to hold an encoenia). For the Jews celebrated in a solemn manner the day on which the temple was dedicated; and it was the very feast day when the Lord spake what has just been read.

 

  1. “It was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. Then came the Jews round about Him, and said unto Him, How long dost thou keep our mind in suspense? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” They were not desiring the truth, but preparing a calumny. “It was winter,” and they were chill; because they were slow to approach that divine fire. For to approach is to believe: he who believes, approaches; who denies, retires. The soul is not moved by the feet, but by the affections. They had become icy cold to the sweetness of loving Him, and they burned with the desire of doing Him an injury. They were far away, while there beside Him. It was not with them a nearer approach in believing, but the pressure of persecution. They sought to hear the Lord saying, I am Christ; and probably enough they only thought of the Christ in a human way. The prophets preached Christ; but the Godhead of Christ asserted in the prophets and in the gospel itself is not perceived even by heretics; and how much less by Jews, so long as the vail is upon their heart?4 In short, in a certain place, the Lord Jesus, knowing that their views of the Christ were cast in a human mould, not in the Divine, taking His stand on the human ground, and not on that where along with the assumption of humanity He also continued Divine, He said to them, “What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He?” Following their own opinion, they replied, “Of David.” For so they had read, and this only they retained; because while they read of His divinity, they did not understand it. But the Lord, to pin them down to some inquiry touching the divinity of Him whose apparent weakness they despised, answered them: “How, then, doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on my right hand, till I put Thine enemies under Thy feet? If David, then, in spirit call Him Lord, how is He his son?”5 He did not deny, but questioned. Let no one think, on hearing this, that the Lord Jesus denied that He was the Son of David. Had Christ the Lord given any such denial, He would not have enlightened the blind who so addressed Him. For as He was passing by one day, two blind men, who were sitting by the wayside, cried out, “Have mercy upon us, thou Son of David.” And on hearing these words He had mercy on them. He stood still, healed, enlightened them;6 for He owned the name. The Apostle Paul also says, “Who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;”7 and in his Epistle to Timothy, “Remember that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, [He that is] of the seed of David, according to my gospel.”8 For the Virgin Mary drew her origin, and hence our Lord also, from the seed of David.

 

  1. The Jews made this inquiry of Christ, chiefly in order that, should He say, I am Christ, they might, in accordance with the only sense they attached to such a name, that He was of the seed of David, calumniate Him with aiming at the kingly power. There is more than this in His answer to them: they wished to calumniate Him with claiming to be the Son of David. He replied that He was the Son of God. And how? Listen: “Jesus answered them, I tell you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me: but ye believe not; because ye are not of my sheep.” Ye have already learned above (in Lecture XLV). who the sheep are: be ye sheep. They are sheep through believing, sheep in following the Shepherd, sheep in not despising their Redeemer, sheep in entering by the door, sheep in going out and finding pasture, sheep in the enjoyment of eternal life. What did He mean, then, in saying to them, “Ye are not of my sheep”? That He saw them predestined to everlasting destruction, not won to eternal life by the price of His own blood.

 

  1. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life.” This is the pasture. If you recollect, He had said before, “And he shall go in and out, and find pasture.”have entered by believing-we go out at death.9 But as we have entered by the door of faith, so, as believers, we quit the body; for it is in going out by that same door that we are able to find pasture. The good pasture is called eternal life; there no blade withereth-all is green and flourishing. There is a plant commonly said to be ever-living; there only is it found to live. “I will give,” He says, “unto them,” unto my sheep, “eternal life.” Ye are on the search for calumnies, just because your only thoughts are of the life that is present.

 

  1. “And they shall never perish:” you may hear the undertone, as if He had said to them, Ye shall perish for ever, because ye are not of my sheep. “No one shall pluck them out of my hand.” Give still greater heed to this: “That which my Father gave me is greater than all.”10 What can the wolf do? What can the thief and the robber? They destroy none but those predestined to destruction. But of those sheep of which the apostle says, “The Lord knoweth them that are His;”11 and “Whom He did foreknow, them He also did predestinate; and whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified;”12 -there is none of such sheep as these that the wolf seizes, or the thief steals, or the robber slays. He, who knows what He gave for them, is sure of their number. And it is this that He says: “No one shall pluck them out of my hand;” and in reference also to the Father, “That which my Father gave me is greater than all.” What did the Father give to the Son that was greater than all? To be His own only-begotten Son.What, then, means “gave”? Was He to whom He gave previously existent, or gave He in the act of begetting? For if He previously existed to whom He gave the gift of Sonship, there was a time when He was, and was not the Son. Far be it from us to suppose that the Lord Christ ever was, and yet was not the Son. Of us such a thing may be said: there was a time when we were the sons of men, but were not the sons of God. For we are made the sons of God by grace, but He by nature, for such was He born. And yet not so, as that one may say, He did not exist till He was born; for He, who was coeternal with the Father, was never unborn. Let him who is wise understand: and whoever understands not, let him believe and be nourished, and he will come to understanding. The Word of God was always with the Father, and always the Word; and because the Word, therefore the Son. So then, always the Son, and always equal. For it is not by growth but by birth that He is equal, who was always born, the Son of the Father, God of God, coeternal of the Eternal. But the Father is not God of13 the Son: the Son is God of14 the Father; therefore in begetting the Son, the Father “gave” Him to be God, in begetting He gave Him to be coeternal with Himself, in begetting He gave Him to be His equal. This is that which is greater than alI. How is the Son the life, and the possessor of life? What He has, He is: as for thee, thou art one thing, thou hast another. For example, thou hast wisdom, but art thou wisdom itself? In short, because thou thyself art not that which thou hast, shouldst thou lose what thou hast, thou returnest to the state of no longer having it: and sometimes thou re-acquirest, sometimes thou losest. As our eye has no light inherently in itself, it opens, and admits it; it shuts, and loses it. It is not thus that the Son of God is God-not thus that He is the Word of the Father; and not thus is He the Word, that passes away with the sound but that which abides in its birth. In such a way hath He wisdom that He is Himself wisdom, and maketh men wise: and life, that He is Himself the life, and maketh others alive. This is that which is greater than all. The evangelist Jn himself looked to heaven and earth when wishing to speak of the Son of God; he looked, and rose above them all. He thought on the thousands of angelic armies above the heavens; he thought, and, like the eagle soaring beyond the clouds, his mind overpassed the whole creation: he rose beyond all that was great, and arrived at that which was greater than all; and said, “In the beginning was the Word.” But because He, of15 whom is the Word, is not of the Word, and the Word is of Him, whose Word He is; therefore He says, “That which the Father gave me,” namely, to be His Word, His only-begotten Son, the brightness of His light, “is greater than all.” Therefore, “No one,” He says, “plucketh my sheep out of my hand. No one can pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”

 

About Archbishop Francesco Follo

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