The 4th Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 36-41
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-6
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. Peter 2:20-25
Gospel: According to St. John 10:1-10
There are certain cultural markers that everyone seems to know, but they don’t necessarily know the source. One great example is the 23rd Psalm and the line “The Lord is my shepherd.” Everyone recognizes the line and this particular psalm rings a cultural bell for most, but the linking of the two is – especially for us Catholics whose knowledge of scripture is often limited to (at best) Sunday readings – not all that common.
To familiarize oneself with the themes of the 23rd Psalm is to be confronted by the gap that exists between the pastoral joy of the verses and the harsh reality of life. I don’t know too many people who can honestly say, “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” I am reminded of the Woody Allen line concerning one of the prophecies of Isaiah, “The lamb might lie down with the lion, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”
We all must walk through that “dark valley”, that bad neighborhood that we call life. Following Jesus does not give us a free pass to live a life absent of any problems, but it does offer us the opportunity to see those problems within the context of the Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
As Peter tells us in the second reading this weekend, that Passion and Death were undertaken so that He might have the burden of our sins thrust upon His innocent shoulders. But they also set for us an example so that we might follow in His footsteps. Peter, who would soon walk the Roman version of the path to Calvary, had no pretensions about what happens to the sheep that faithfully follow their Shepherd.
Those footsteps lead to suffering in the “dark valley”, but, whether we follow in His footsteps or not, the “dark valley” is all around us. As Pope St. John Paul pointed out in his apostolic letter Salvifici Dolores (“On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering”), the human condition is one of suffering – physical, mental, emotional and moral. If you had to follow Jesus in order to experience earthly pain and suffering, then we can be certain that Catholicism would have fallen by the wayside a long time ago.
The Good Shepherd of both the 23rd Psalm and the Gospel reading from St. John cares for His sheep, and gives them the example of His own reaction to those who made Him suffer. St. Peter points out that “when He was insulted He returned no insult; when He suffered He did not threaten.” To walk in those footsteps is a daunting task, but the insults and the suffering come, no matter how we respond.
Our hope lies not in avoiding insults or suffering, our hope lies in the Shepherd who walks ahead of us. He is the reason that we can enter the “dark valley” and not be utterly paralyzed by the evil that abides in it, for we know that the “dark valley” is not our destination. We hear and recognize and follow His voice so that we might come through on the other side where we can “dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”