In the Acts of the Apostles Luke presents his view of Christianity in the 70’s or 80’s AD by writing about the even earlier history of the church. Our first reading (Acts 13: 43-52) comes after Luke’s account of Paul and Barnabas preached by invitation during the synagogue service in Antioch in Pisidia. Paul himself was a well-educated Jew, confident in his religious beliefs about the chosen people and enthusiastic in his efforts to live in the way he felt sure was right – Judaism. But he was open to change and to questioning how things were; this enabled him, quite suddenly and dramatically to be converted to Christianity; however the church was suspicious of this one-time enemy of theirs, Paul. Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew with a sense of caring and pastoring others; it was he who befriended Paul in this difficult situation and the two became real friends and worked together for a time. But as Peter had opposition from Jews in Jerusalem (last week’s first reading) so, we read in Acts that Paul and Barnabas had similar difficulties from the Jews in the diaspora (outside of the Jewish homeland).
The second reading is, as last week, from the Book of Revelation (Rev 7:9, 14b-17). After expressing in visionary language the presence of people of all kinds in heaven before God, an explanation of the multitude of the saints in heaven is given in today’s reading by one of the elders. It was a time of great tribulation when many Christians were suffering and even being put to death because of their beliefs. The vision is of the reward that these people now have in heaven; the martyrs are like Christ Himself, who was executed really because of his loyalty to the will of the Father. But the pattern of history that this picture shows is one that will repeat itself for many individuals and groups throughout history; it is the case that those who live selflessly for others can be persecuted one way or another by others; so the vision reminds the readers that they must brace themselves for this as they also try to follow the life of Christ – to consciously share in His Life.
The gospel of John (Jn 10:27-30) uses many images of God, none of which can capture the mystery of His Being nor even of His relationship with us but all show something of it. Perhaps because humans at one stage of their development where like shepherds looking after flocks of animals, the image of shepherding was used by many peoples for their ruler or deity. In the Jewish religion, we think back to king David and the psalm attributed to him which is so popular, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” In our reading from chapter 10 Jesus makes this application of shepherding to Himself and affirms that He and the Father are one, God, stressing the commitment of the shepherd to his sheep and the safety in which they can be confident. This expresses something of the relationship we reside in, between God and ourselves.