Gospel Reflection for May 8, 2022, Fourth Sunday of Easter

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and others who, like Paul, take up the apostolic mantle and help to spread the Gospel quickly throughout the Roman world. We have evidence that by the year 50 there is already a significant Christian community even in the city of Rome, the capital of the empire.

The success of the proclamation of the Gospel was due, to some extent, to the fascination of many Gentiles to the strong moral teaching, simplicity of life and faith, and the ancient progeny of the Jewish tradition. As there were synagogues in every major Roman city, the Jewish community and their teachings were well-known to many Gentiles. Synagogue assemblies often included many non-Jews who were open to the teaching of the tradition but were not necessarily attracted to the legal demands of the religion. It is into this world that the apostles, and especially Paul, made their inroads into the Gentile community. It is worth noting that Paul always went first to preach in the synagogue when he entered a community for the first time. Then, after he was expelled from there, he preached the Gospel to those Gentiles and Jews who left the synagogue with him. In part this is the origin of the house churches which formed around these smaller, and often persecuted, neophyte communities. 

Those who rejected Paul and the Gospel were not content to let them walk away. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the many occasions where Paul is oppressed, persecuted, and even had his life placed in danger. This is certainly an ironic twist in the life of Paul as he was notorious as a persecutor of the earliest followers of Jesus. He is even present at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr.

The First Reading this Fourth Sunday of Easter gives us an example of Paul facing this kind of opposition.

Here we see the bribery of local officials and prominent members of the community in order to conspire to oppress the proclamation of the Gospel. This is not the first time that we hear of this tactic, as earlier Matthew tells us that the guards at the tomb of Jesus also conspired to keep silent about the Resurrection.

If we learn nothing else from this event our takeaway is that not much has changed over the course of Christian history! Those opposed to the Gospel will always go to the most extreme means in order to prevent the practice of religious faith in the world.

There are those who are obstinately closed to the Word of God in their lives. Often it is because they do not want to be challenged in their world view or in their lifestyle which runs contrary to the Gospel. It is not enough to refuse to hear or heed the Gospel message, these forces demand that no one ever be confronted with the truth of the Gospel.

We get a further insight into this reality in the brief excerpt from John’s Gospel that we hear this weekend as well. Traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice and they follow him. from this, we can also conclude that those who are not his sheep do not hear his voice.

This is a reflection of their own sinfulness, closing them off from a relationship with Jesus. What Jesus offers — eternal life — comes not only at the cost of his own Passion and Death, it comes at a cost for the disciple as well. Cooperation with God’s plan, and holding fast to the faith that the Lord has gifted to us places demands on us. Yet, we live in hope. We listen and heed the call of Jesus as we hear his voice, knowing that the world will do all in its power to silence his voice and ours.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.