4th Sunday Easter
17 April 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
In the first reading we pick up on Paul on his first missionary journey accompanied by Barnabas arriving in Antioch of Pisidia which is situated in the lakes region of modern day Turkey and which was about 700 kms as the crow flies from Antioch in Syria where Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned to make this journey. Barnabas you will recall was the chap who vouched for Paul’s sincerity after his conversion and he pleaded Paul’s case to the apostles who were suspicious and afraid of him because of his history of aggressive persecution of the Christians.
The reading tells us that Paul and Barnabas had a fantastic reception when they preached in the synagogue and that by the second week, almost the whole town turned up to hear their story about Jesus, his resurrection and the salvation of the world. This news was received joyfully by the Gentiles, the non-Jewish population, and many of them became disciples but it really upset the Jewish religious authorities who drove Paul and Barnabas away;and they moved on, determined and unperturbed, to the next town, Iconium, about 150kms away. Paul and Barnabas didn’t mince their words in their warning to the Jewish leaders. They told them that the Messiah had been revealed first to the Jewish people as had been foretold in scripture but that in rejecting Jesus they had brought judgement on themselves and precluded any hope of their salvation.
In the second reading taken from the Book of Revelation, John describes a scene from his trance experience and gives his readers one understanding of what eternal life means. He’s trying to describe something that is indescribable. How can anyone possibly describe adequately what life with God in heaven for all eternity is like? We have no frame of reference or experience from which to draw a picture or a description. John sees Jesus as the shepherd on the throne surrounded by huge numbers of adoring disciples from every nation, tribe, people and tongue, a number so great that it is beyond reckoning. These are the people who notwithstanding great pain and suffering had followed Jesus in their lives on earth and now are rejoicing with him and want for nothing; every need is fully satisfied; that’s heaven.
These two readings ably introduce the short reading from John’s Gospel in which we hear Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, say “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life”
Jesus calls each one of us by name to follow him.
The difficulty that we often have is to hear his voice; the gentle voice of the shepherd. We run the risk of following other voices that leads us away from God rather than towards God. Typically these are the voices that we hear in our thoughts and even our prayers and in the depths of our soul that are focused on our own hurts and needs and desires rather than those of our neighbour.
During Lent this year I read a recently published book called “A Basic Field Manual for Hearing God’s Voice”written by Philip Kosloski, an American Catholic author, journalist and blogger who writes on discernment, discipleship and prayer.He draws on the wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola and John Paul II among many others in his writing.
In one chapter of the book he describes 3 ways to distinguish between God’s Voice and Satan’s Voice. Three ways that will help us recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd from the voice of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The first way is to recognise the voice that contradicts God’s Commandments. This is the voice that tells us, for example, that it’s not really important to keep holy the Sabbath day and that to miss Sunday Mass occasionally when we don’t feel like it, is not a big deal. Or that taking the Lord’s name in vain is just a figment of speak and doesn’t do any harm. That pornography really isn’t all that bad or that gossip doesn’t actually hurt anyone.To identify this dangerous voice we need to be familiar with God’s Commandments and how they apply to us today in this complex world andwe need to do an examination of conscience to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd.
The second way is to test whether the voice, or decisions that we have made, create peace or anxiety in our hearts. God is a God of peace. That was Jesus’ greeting to his disciples after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.”The voice that creates anxiety and disturbs our interior peace is the voice of the wolf. When we are discerning our vocation in life, what is God calling me to do – today and everyday – the right voice will be the one that brings peace of heart.
The third way to distinguish God’s voice is that he always seeks to affirm us and tell us about our beauty as children of God. He tells us we must never be afraid to come to him; we are always beautiful in his eyes. He is the Father of the Prodigal Son, always ready to embrace us after we have fallen and lifts us up. The evil voice tells us that we are useless and unlovable, we are failures and have no hope of God’s mercy. The devil hates the Sacrament of Confession because it is such an abundant expression of God’s infinite mercy.
Jesus says that no one is able to snatch us out of his hand when we follow him. But there are times when we don’t follow him. Even when we have strayed and have lost our way; he calls. We may stop listening to his voice but he never stops calling. If we listen with an open heart we will hear the gentle voice of love calling us. He is calling us to know him, love him and serve him. When we listen to his voice we find inner peace in this life and we find the road that will take us to a place of eternal happiness.