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God's Word on Sunday: We are nourished by Jesus’ unending care

  • May 1, 2022

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C) May 8 (Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30)

Religious people often are reluctant to hear new things. There is a great deal of comfort in what is known and predictable. Anything that disturbs this sense of the “way things are” is suspect and is seen as a threat. Nearly every new direction that religious thought has taken has been greeted with resistance, rancour and sometimes even violence. One need not look farther than the battlelines that have been drawn in the contemporary Church.

Paul and Barnabas followed a routine during their missionary journey: they would enter the synagogue, proclaim Jesus and then try to win over the people. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. In this account, there were a fair number of people who were interested in their message. The God-fearers and gentiles were especially glad that inclusion was being offered to them too. But it upset others, especially those in power, so the consequences were predictable: they were driven out of town.

Greater inclusion is often a cause of religious turmoil, both then and now. We have to beware of Luke’s rhetoric and theological agenda in the Book of Acts. According to his lights, God had fulfilled His promises to the Jews and sent the Messiah, whom they had rejected. By doing so, they were judged unworthy of eternal life and were no longer the people of God. This view was born out of the venomous struggles of the first century and is definitely not acceptable today. God has not rejected the Jewish people.

As for Christians, change has not come easily. Old ideas die hard: racism and the notion that only Christians (of the correct variety) can enjoy salvation are but a couple of them. The ability to change and open the mind to a wider reality is a sign of spiritual vitality. And to ask probing questions is not only permissible — it is imperative.

The vision from Revelation gives us a hint of that wider reality. The seer beheld a great multitude that encompassed all humanity. People of every tribe, nation and language were all there praising and worshipping God. There were no labels on them. This multitude had come through the pain and struggle of earthly life and were now in the hands of a loving God. They all were beyond every type of want or suffering and were comforted by the Lamb. We are all God’s people, and this is what God desires for all of us.

Have we ever heard the voice of Jesus, and would we even recognize it if we did? Jesus no longer walks the Earth, but His voice can still be heard. This voice is far more than the words and sounds that came from His mouth. It manifests itself as the nudges and guidance of the Spirit and the whispers that come from the deepest part of our hearts. Sometimes — especially when we need it — the voice is loud and clear, but usually it is quieter and gentler. It calls us to ever greater love and kindness and recognition of our unity with one another and with God.

The voice of Jesus can come to people in many different ways and places — some of them surprising — and in numerous disguises. The message is always the same. Those who have walked in God’s ways, however they understand them, and have yearned for compassion, harmony, justice and goodness will always be attuned to that voice and will respond and follow. But those mired in selfishness, greed, cruelty and self-gratification will probably not hear the voice and will continue in their negative path. But maybe not, for grace has a funny habit of upending and remaking our lives.

Jesus reassures us of His unending guardianship and care for those who listen to His voice and recognize Him. Jesus will continually nourish them with the Spirit and will grant them eternal life. They will always belong to Him, and nothing will ever separate them from the Lord.

Jesus and the Father are one; to hear Jesus is to hear God the Father. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus assured His followers that if they were to abide in Him, He and the Father would dwell in them. The voice of the Lord would then be clear and unmistakable.