Service is real key to our salvation
By Father R. Michael Schaab
Fourth Sunday of Easter/April 25
Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1,8-9,21-23,26,28,29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
Just as the eight days from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter are celebrated as one joyful Easter Day, so also the Eight Sundays from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday are celebrated as one joyful Easter Season. During this season the Church continues to instruct the newly baptized and all members of the Church about what it means to be a follower of Christ. This Sunday the readings present us with two scriptural images of Christ. In the first reading from Acts, Christ is presented as the “cornerstone,” while in the Gospel He is presented as the “Good Shepherd.”
Jesus was rejected by the people of Israel just as a builder of a house might reject a stone that doesn’t fit into the foundation. But, the stone rejected becomes the cornerstone “by which we are to be saved.” As a matter of fact, “there is no salvation through anyone else.” This means that Christ’s death and Resurrection has saved all people. This was very important for the early Christians to understand because this truth affirms God’s love for all people. Some of the earliest heresies in the Church stemmed from an ignorance of the universality of God’s love. Even to this day, there is still a temptation to judge others because of race, nationality or religion and to conclude that they can’t be saved.
How God’s universal salvation is experienced by each individual is the work of the Spirit, and earlier in his Gospel John tells us, “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” In other words, God’s universal love and the Salvation that comes through Christ may not always be apparent, but that it is there being offered to each of us can never be doubted.
SHARING IN RESURRECTION
Today’s Gospel reaffirms the idea that God’s love goes beyond any limits that we might want to impose on it. Those early Christians, many of them converts from Judaism, might have looked around and felt that the Gentiles were excluded from Salvation. But the Good Shepherd informs them that He has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” The Good Shepherd’s love is universal so that all humanity may find unity.
The Good Shepherd has two qualities that give us consolation and challenge at the same time. The first, He tells us, is that “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” That we abide in the mind of Christ is our eternal consolation, just as Jesus found consolation in His unity with the Father as he went through the Passion, Death and Resurrection. So, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ who knows His sheep.
At the same time, Jesus tells us, “I will lay down my life for the sheep.” In this he establishes a model for all His followers. We are to be servants of one another, willing to lay down our lives in service of others. This is not meant as merely another reference to the Golden Rule. This simple fact of service is the real key to our salvation. “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” So it must be with the newly baptized and all believers. Our response to the call to service unites us all in the mind of Christ and promises a life that goes beyond what we experience in this world. Christian service is a sharing in the Resurrection.
This promise of eternal life is summed up in the second reading from the First Letter of John. A title is given at baptism, a Child of God. John writes, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. . . . Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
Easter celebrates the eternal life of Christ. The message this Sunday is that same eternal life is to be ours through the universal love of God in Christ and our willingness to serve others. Thus, as we live as Christians, we can say with the Good Shepherd, “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again, I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
FATHER R. MICHAEL SCHAAB is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria who gives retreats and days of recollection, and who fills in as presider at parish Masses on weekends. He resides on a hobby farm in Putnam County.