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This Sunday's Programme

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4th Sunday Easter A

Sunday 30th April 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Jn 10: 1-10

‘I’m telling you seriously, the person who doesn’t enter the sheep yard by the gate but gets in another way is a thief and robber. The one who comes through the gate is the shepherd. For him, the gatekeeper opens the gate.  The sheep are listening out for his voice.  He calls them each by name and they follow him.  When they are through the gate, he goes ahead and they follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow strangers. In fact they will flee from them as they don’t recognise the voices of strangers.’

Jesus used this imagery with them but they didn’t understand what he was saying. So he said again: ‘I’m telling you seriously, I am the door for the sheep. Those who came before me were thieves and robbers and the sheep didn’t know them. I am the door.  If they enter through me, they will be saved.  They will go in and out and will find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and destroy. I have come that they may have life and that abundantly.’

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Lord God, divine shepherd;
in the days ahead, just as it has been all my life,
I shall not want for anything.
You will rest me in rich pasture
and lead me beside calm waters.
You will bring my inner being back where it belongs,
and lead me along the right paths,
for the sake of your name.
Even when things seem at their darkest,
sensing your presence, I fear nothing;
you are sure of the way ahead, and you protect me.
Indeed, in spite of the adversity surrounding me
you continue to provide abundantly for my well-being;
anointing me with your hospitality
and pouring out blessing upon blessing.
Surely good and lovingkindness will pursue me all my days,
I will return, and you, O Lord,
shall be my dwelling-place for days without end.

For use in worship, with acknowledgement. (c) Jeff Shrowder 2002.

 

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, you call us each by name, filling out lives with good things and drawing us to the fullness of life. We are so often blind to your goodness, choosing lesser lights and following destructive desires.  Send us your Spirit that we may truly follow the way of Jesus, the way of life and love.  We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

This Gospel text while looking so simple and straightforward is more complex than it seems.  As read for the Sunday, it also seems to be a stand-alone piece but it actually isn’t. For a true understanding we need to be aware that this text is a commentary on the story of the Man Born Blind (see the 4th Sunday of Lent).  A recap would be helpful. The story opens with the disciples asking whose sin caused the blind man’s lack of sight.  Jesus rejects their suggestions of the man or his parents being the sinner/s.  He then goes on to cure the man. When the man is brought before the religious authorities, they refuse to believe that a miracle has occurred because he was healed on the Sabbath.  This goes against their interpretation of the Mosaic Law.  Their interrogation becomes increasingly abusive till they judge both Jesus and the man as sinners and eject the man from the Temple.  When the man meets Jesus, he recognises who Jesus is and worships him. Then begins the commentary which contrasts the way the religious authorities treated the man with the way Jesus does.

In verse 6 John uses an unusual Greek word – ‘pariomia’ which is often translated as ‘parable’ but this isn’t quite right. The awkward term ‘image field’ would be better as this gives the sense that Jesus is using a number of different images around the shepherd theme to contrast what the authorities did and how he offers salvation.  He is both the ‘gate of the sheepfold’ and the ‘good shepherd’. The imagery of both draws not only on the common experience of the people of Palestine but also on a number of significant texts of the Hebrew Bible.    Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Zechariah but, especially, Ezekiel all describe how the ‘shepherds’ of Israel – the civil and religious leaders – have neglected or exploited the people.  God, in divine anger, is going to punish them and come as shepherd to the people or send a ‘good shepherd.’  Simply put, the issue is how the shepherds use the authority that has been vested in them.  Looking back to how the Man Born Blind was treated, the authorities abused and rejected the man because he wasn’t totally compliant to their understanding of the Mosaic Law.  In contrast, Jesus treats the man with exquisite courtesy throughout.  He does not badger or force him. The man is encouraged to listen to the voice of Jesus, speaking through his experience.  Gently, step by step, the man is led to an understanding of what had happened to him and who had done it.  No wonder he could worship. This is the fullness of life for which Jesus had come.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Authority – we all have to exercise it at times and we all have issues with it. If that is not enough this is one issue which, across all four Gospels, Jesus addresses a number of times in a number of ways. It is important. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is commentating on the differing ways he and the religious authorities had acted in relation to the man born blind (see John 9).

The word ‘authority’ is closely aligned with the word ‘author’ which comes from the Latin word of ‘originator’. Now if we play with this word in relation to how a person exercises authority we can see two very different styles of authority.

The religious authorities of John 9 saw themselves as the only and integral interpreters of the Mosaic Law. In their eyes they were the ones who could determine what was right or not. Essentially their authority was for power over the people. This could be exercised in a benevolent way but it left itself open to awful abuse. In the imagery of this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus calls the authorities in John 9 ‘thieves’ and ‘robbers’ – they stole the healed man’s dignity, reputation and ultimately, they thought they could deny him his right to stand before God by expelling him from the Temple.

In contrast, see how Jesus ‘authors’ the blind man into the fullness of life. He heals him and then leaves the now-sighted man to renegotiate his place in his community: first, with the local people, then the religious authorities, then his parents. Gradually the man grows in confidence not only in understanding what has happened to him but also in who the person of Jesus is. The man, the person initially regarded as a sinner, grows in religious understanding by reflecting on his own experience. Then Jesus returns and gently leads him to that extraordinary vision: the capacity to worship in dignity. Here we see an example of the Good Shepherd leading his sheep in and out of pasture, a Shepherd leading his sheep to fullness of life.

 

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

As far as intelligence is concerned, sheep do not have a good reputation. Slow, sluggish, conformist are characteristics usually applied to them but a recent scientific study shows that they are not quite as stupid as has been assumed. This study found that they have extraordinary memories, especially for those who look after them. Even after two years absence, they remembered the farmer who had fed and cared for them. Maybe this is the characteristic Jesus was drawing on when he used the imagery of the shepherd. In the story of the ‘Man Born Blind’, we see the religious authorities acting in a way that was solely concerned with their own good. In contrast, we see Jesus acting for the good of the man. The man himself, through the story, learns to sift through his own experience and ultimately, he not only recognises that Jesus is the one who truly cares for him, he ‘sees’ who Jesus truly is and worships him.

We, too, need to sift through the experiences of our lives to recognise where goodness has been at work. We live in a society where plenty of people tell us what to do. For example, we are constantly being told what we should or shouldn’t eat. Many years ago a wise doctor told me to listen to my own body – it will tell me what is good for it – but that takes sensitivity, attentiveness and discipline. In some ways it is easier to ‘cop out’ and follow what others tell me even though I know that is not the way to health.

One of the challenges of life is to learn to discern what is good for us and to embrace it. So many voices come at us asserting what we ‘should’ do. Jesus refers to himself as the _Good_ Shepherd as ‘goodness’ itself is the tool by which we judge aright. We have been created in goodness, each with a unique set of characteristics, gifts and talents. These we should recognise and embrace as it is upon these that our path to a rich life will be built. Throughout life, we have various experiences some resulting in good, some not. Being attentive to what happens and what effect it has on us, will attune us to the voice of God calling us to fullness of life.

 

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– The earliest images of Jesus in Christian art are of him as The Good Shepherd. This sculpture dates from the 3rd century.

– In this illustration by Jerome Nadal (1593) Jesus is confronting the religious authorities. There are images of the Good Shepherd on the building behind them.

– This 16th century watercolour by Hans Bol of Bad Shepherds shows them attacking the sheep and the sheepfold. Note examples of various ‘sins’ occurring in the distant background.

– Sieger Koder’s The Lost Sheep.

 

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us in the various situations of our life. In this Sunday’s Gospel he uses the image of pasture, the place where he feeds us, as a sign of his care. We usually don’t recognise the presence and work of God until after the event has past. In this week’s Mulling Meditation, we are going to reflect on when God leads us into the ‘fullness of life.’

Over this week mull over the recent situations and times in which you have been ‘feed’ with wisdom and strength:
– in your family,
– in your community,
– at your work,
– in your friendships,
– in what you have read or watched,
– in conversations.

As you mull, consider how you can integrate this wisdom into your life.

Such wisdom is always strengthened by sharing with others. If the opportunity arise to share this with others, take it and be surprised by how this wisdom is developed.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus contrasts the leadership/authority given by bad shepherds and that given by himself – the good shepherd. In this week’s Mirror Mediation, we are invited to meditate on how we use our authority.

Rest in the love of your God.

As you rest there, consider the way that God has lead you through your life. So often we do not see God’s hand at work until after the event when we have taken time for reflection.

– Consider the situations and times in which you have to offer leadership to or have authority over others. How do you feel within yourself?

– What thoughts or attitudes do you have towards the people in your care?
Do you recognise their needs? Do you let yourself be dominated by their wants and expectations? What is the ‘fullness of life’ into which you feel Jesus is calling them? Can you do anything to advance that fullness?
– Choose one situation, and ask the Spirit’s guidance for you for the coming week.

Authority is such a complex challenge for us. As you mull over these questions, remain resting in the love of God, knowing that it will work all things for our good, if we but allow it.

Rest in the love of your God.