Studying God’s Word

Acts 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
John 10:27-30 [51C]
The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter speak to some of the challenges faced by the earliest believers in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah. Despite rejection and duress, the early Christians kept their faith in the resurrected Jesus as their shepherd.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke records the apostle Paul going on three missionary journeys: Acts 13:4—14:27; 15:36—18:22; 18:23—21:16. Scholars have estimated that Paul traveled an astonishing ten thousand miles for his missionary work over his thirty-year career of evangelization. Today’s reading from Acts offers some details of Paul’s first mission to the Gentiles at Pisidian Antioch. In brief, the Jews rejected Paul and his coworker Barnabas, but the Gentiles accepted them. This Jewish rejection-Gentile acceptance is a pattern that emerges in Paul’s first mission (13:44-52; 14:1-7, 8-20), which involved journeying to the island of Cyprus (13:4-12) and the regions of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia in the province of Asia Minor. On this first mission, according to Luke, despite rejection and even persecution by the Jews, Paul and Barnabas established churches among Gentile believers in Pisidian Antioch (heard in today’s reading), as well as Iconium and Derbe (Acts 13:13—14:28). Curiously, Paul viewed his evangelization of his fellow Jews as his first priority: “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first.” And he also saw his Jewish opponents are integral to God’s plan: “but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” 
The second reading from the Revelation of John is part of the initial vision of heaven heard last Sunday. The entire first vision, Revelation 4:1—8:1, contains both the vision of the scroll and the lamb and the breaking of the seven seals. Still in heaven, John now witnesses the Lamb (Jesus) breaking the seven seals of the scroll in turn. The breaking of each of the first six seals in heaven corresponds to cataclysmic events that are to occur on Earth in the near future to all unbelievers. Before the seventh seal is broken, John sees two other visions: the 144,000 “marked” (saved) from the twelve tribes of Israel and those who kept the faith, those who faithfully endured and “survived the time of great distress,” and who now receive their reward in heaven. Today’s second reading presents this second vision, the triumph of the elect. John offers an enduring message of hope for Christians of all ages who suffer for their belief in the resurrected Christ.
The Gospel reading is actually a pre-Resurrection story from the Gospel of John and follows Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse (Jn 10:1-21). In today’s reading, following the Good Shepherd discourse, Jesus is engaged in a larger debate with some of the Jews who challenge him on his identity as the Messiah. Jesus rejects the criticism of his Jewish opponents on the grounds that they are unbelievers who do not “hear” his “voice.” In the Gospel of John, those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14) is a gift given by the Father: “My Father … has given them [believers] to me.”
The opening words in today’s Gospel reading present an interesting definition of Christian discipleship: “My sheep hear my voice.” For Jesus, true followers are able to discern his voice among all the noise that clutters and claims our attention.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz