Easter 4

The first reading repeats the introduction from last week so as to make sense, for there follows a continuation of the previous words spoken to the crowd by Peter. The people have been moved by the accusation of putting Jesus to death, and they want to know what they can do. Peter calls upon them to be baptised. As John the Baptist seems to have preached to his listeners, Peter begins with the need for repentance and the need for baptism. You could feel sorry for the past but this repentance means ‘change your attitude to life.’ Baptism is a washing symbolic of starting with a clean sheet; here it is for starting a new life caught up in the life of the risen Christ. In his life our past is transformed; those baptised will have the forgiveness of past sins. The words translated ‘forgiveness of’ could equally well be translated as ‘release from,’ meaning a freedom from the debilitating affects of past sins. Those baptised will share in the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God. God wants people of all kinds to come into this communion with Him.

The First letter of Peter is written in good Greek and unlikely to come from the pen of Peter himself, but whether or no it is a work inspired by God written in the first century and accepted into the Christian Bible. It has a great deal to say to us.  Our reading presents us with food for thought, a high ideal and an enormous challenge. It tells us that when we undergo suffering even though we are doing good deeds, this shows God’s favour for us. Indeed this is actually what being a Christian involves – following Christ’s example, who Himself suffered for our benefit and as an example for us to follow. The writer has in mind a prophetic poem (maybe of the 4th century BC) from the book of Isaiah (chapter 53). The suffering of Christ has often been seen as a sacrifice to appease God for sin and folk’s falling short of expectations, and this imagery was drawn ultimately from the Jewish sacrifices and sin-offerings, for it is not at all easy to find ways of making some sense of Christ’s suffering (and even of any innocent’s misfortune). But God is not like a human self-opinionated superior person, who requires compensation when offended in any way; not like us when we seek what can only be called revenge for any damage done to us or even to our belongings or property!  Jesus came to show us a better way to live our lives, a very challenging way reported in Matthew’s account of the sermon on the mount (Mt 5:38-48): we shouldn’t be wanting “an eye for an eye,” for revenge and treating evil with force doesn’t bring freedom and joy to the world. As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from death, after a painful and totally unjust execution, we need to learn that the way to the higher life, to sharing in the life of Christ, is not so much a bed of roses, as of thorns. There is a deep and inner joy in following the difficult path of the life of Christ, which we should and could take part in. And at this time we celebrate this joy of the new and higher way of living.

The Gospel is helpful after the challenge of the second reading. For we easily and often fall short of the ideal and go astray.  But we need to think of God as a shepherd.  In those days the shepherd would spend most of his life with his flock, leading them to good pasture, gathering them into a safe place and staying with them throughout the night for their protection. This image of God has been deservedly very popular over the last two and a half millennia; many people know and love the psalm and hymn that we had for our responsorial psalm after the first reading; in John’s gospel this image is expanded and Jesus is God the shepherd, and it is through Him, as through a gate, that we can not only share His way of life, but benefit from his help and protection.

see Jeffs Jottings – Listen to Judas

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