The falling back on the past, the fear of novelty, the pessimistic look about the present and the gloomy forecasts for the future are not signs of love and fidelity to tradition, but symptoms of poor faith in the work of the Spirit. Pope John XXIII dissented from the “prophets of doom” and invited them to contemplate “the fruit of the Spirit” present not only in the Church but everywhere.
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The Church’s days are numbered—some say—because she is old, does not know how to renew herself, repeats old formulas instead of responding to new questions, stubbornly restates obsolete rituals and unintelligible dogmas while today’s people are looking for a new equilibrium, a new way of life, a less distant God.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is called the Sunday of the Good Shepherd because in it, every year, the liturgy presents a passage from John chapter 10 in which Jesus presents himself as the true shepherd. The four verses that we read in the Gospel today are drawn from the final part of the speech of Jesus and they want to help us deepen the meaning of this biblical image.
Jesus was an uncomfortable person for those in power both political and religious. The apostles were equally uncomfortable for the powers that be, that was why they were persecuted. Christians cannot not be but uncomfortable people. They have made and will always bother defenders of unjust situations, incompatible with the Gospel.
“Fortunate are you to see what you see!” Jesus said one day (Lk 10:23). The disciples who accompanied the Master during his public life are called by Luke witnesses of the events that have taken place among us (Lk 1:1-2). It is undeniable; they are blessed because they have seen. Among them, there is also Thomas. Yet this experience was just the first stage of a demanding journey, one that had to bring them to faith.
“Now, on the first day after the Sabbath, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark…” (v. 1). In these first words of the Gospel of Easter day one can perceive, almost breathe the signs of death’s victory. On earth it’s all silence, immobility, quietness. A woman, alone and frightened, moves in the darkness of the night. Death seems to dominate unchallenged and silence and darkness celebrate the triumph.
The dramatic agony of the cross has often led the preachers of the past to insist excessively on the gory aspects of Jesus’ passion. From this preaching images, popular representations and some devotions are derived in which the violence of the blows of the scourging, the falls under the weight of the cross, the sadism of the soldiers exasperated. This type of approach to the Gospel texts do not make a good service to the understanding of the Easter events, indeed, it blurs the meaning.
Disciple is one who follows in the footsteps of the Master. “Your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ had”—Paul recommends to the Philippians (Phil 2:5). “I have just given you an example,” Jesus says, “that as I have done you also may do.” He “has not come to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45). Even his disciples, following his example, are called to be servants.
During this week we are not invited to grieve and to mourn the death of Jesus, but to rejoice in the freedom that he has realized by giving his life. We also try to question ourselves: indeed have we really entered the new reality born of his sacrifice? Let us ask ourselves if we have accepted his kingdom, assimilating the new face of God, the new religion, the new face of a man and the new society proposed by him.
And here is the most beautiful of all the parables of the Gospels. From the early days of the church it has been studied, commented and suggested ideas to great writers, painters, musicians, philosophers, psychologists. It is known as the “Parable of the prodigal son,” but this title is not apt because it takes into account only one of the three characters. It neglects his older brother to whom is dedicated the entire second part of the story and, above all, it ignores the real protagonist, the father. It is more correct then to speak of the “Parable of the love of the Father” or the “Parable of the merciful father.”
The message of the parable is clear: from those who have heard the message of the Gospel, God expects delicious and plentiful fruits. He does not want exterior religious practices, not content with appearances (in the spring, the fig tree bears fruit even before the leaves), but seeks works of love.
The episode of the “transfiguration” is placed by Luke, eight days after that, Jesus dramatically announced his passion, death, and resurrection, eight days after that, he proclaimed the conditions for one who wishes to follow him: “renounce yourself and take up your cross every day” (Lk 9:22-27).
Paul assures: “God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your strength. He will give you, together with temptation, the strength to escape and to resist” (1 Cor 10:13). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds of another consoling truth: Jesus experienced our own temptations, so “he is not indifferent to our weaknesses. Having been tested through suffering, he is able to help those who are tested” (Heb 4:15; 2:18).
In today’s passage the recipients of the Lord’s dramatic warning are not, however, neither the Pharisees nor the Jews, but the disciples themselves. Even for them, there is a danger of acting like blind guides. In the Church of the first centuries, the baptized were called the enlightened ones because the light of Christ had opened their eyes.
We could summarize the message of the Gospel by saying that there are three categories of people: on the lowest rung are the wicked (those who, while still receiving the good, they do evil); higher are the righteous (those who respond to the good with good and evil with evil); finally there are those who respond to evil with good. Only they are the children of God.
Those who has the money to invest, do not rely on the first sales pitch that is on the street. He asks for information, seeks advice from some experts, checks which actions are down and which are rising, which gives major reliability and which are on sale. Only at the end, after careful consideration, he chooses what to buy. Our life is a precious capital that God has placed in our hands and must be productive. What are the values at play? What are the actions that will bump up the capital?
Today’s readings present some characters who are called to carry out a mission of proclaiming the Word of God. They all have the same reaction: they feel unworthy, incapable, inadequate. Isaiah declares to be a man of unclean lips. Peter asks Jesus to turn away from him because he knows he is a sinner. Paul says that the Risen One was manifested to him, but “as to an abortion,” that is, as an imperfect being, one born abnormally.
The last verse: “But Jesus passed through their midst and went his way” (v. 30) does not refer to his miraculous disappearance. It is a message of consolation and hope that Luke wants to give to the Christians of his community who are facing opposition, misunderstandings, disagreements, and hostility... Luke ensures: Protected by God, they, too, will pass through the midst of persecution and will continue confidently along until they reach their goal.
Forty days have passed since Christmas and—perhaps with a bit of nostalgia—we remember the emotions aroused in us by that feast and, even more, the good news that the baby brought us, a star coming from Heaven to illuminate our nights, “rising Sun, shining on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78-79). Why does the Church today make us contemplate again that child?