Fourth Sunday of Easter, year C, April 17, 2016
One of the purposes of the book of Acts was to explain to Gentile converts how their new religion started within Judaism, but soon reached beyond its roots to embrace strangers. This passage gives details about the human passions and divine providence behind that change.
The Revelation of John was written to help persecuted Christians to be resolute. A public document, its symbolic language is meant to seem vague and harmless to the persecutors, but full of encouragement to the believers.
In a few short sentences, Jesus describes our relationship to him and his relationship to his Father. We're united with Jesus because we heed his word, as he is united with the Father because he does the Father's will.
The Historical Setting: One of the most pressing questions in the early church was what to make of the break between Judaism and Christianity. The earliest Christians had seen Jesus as the fulfillment of their own ancient Jewish hopes. Why, then, were he and they rejected by mainstream Judaism? One could argue that Christians' openness to the Gentiles was both cause and effect of their rupture with Judaism. That's strongly suggested by today's first reading. One of the purposes of Acts is to explain this to Gentile converts, and to explain to them the Jewish background of their new religion.
Proclaiming It: To proclaim it properly, the lector should make the dichotomy clear, using the voice to accent the contrasts between "you" (the Jews whom Paul addresses) and "the Gentiles" to whom Paul and Barnabas are turning. Anyone hearing you read this aloud should quickly grasp what Paul is doing: telling the Jews forcefully how they've blown their chance, and that he's taking the good news elsewhere. (Compare Paul's speech to last week's speech by Peter to the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. Both deserve equally dramatic oral presentation.)
Other aspects of the Jewish/Christian question come up in Lectionary selections. See Lector's Notes on the first reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B, and for the second reading on the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Our Liturgical Setting: Every year on this Sunday, we read a different paragraph from the gospel of John, chapter 10, each about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This year, the second reading depicts Jesus as both Lamb and shepherd. In the latter role, he protects and refreshes his flock, who suffer persecution (see the last paragraph of today's first reading).
The Historical Background: Remember that the book of Revelation was written for the encouragement of persecuted Christians. If you were in its original audience, you'd be thinking, "This saintly mystic named John is sharing with me a vision about the future I'll enjoy if I remain faithful during this persecution. Even John was puzzled by what he saw, so in his vision he gets briefed by the elders already in heaven. They told him we'll get to be in heaven, with thousands of other faithful people, seeing God on His throne, singing praises, never suffering again. In baptism, we are already washed in the blood of the Lamb."
Proclaiming It: Given this background, the lector should try to recreate this experience for today's listening congregation. So you can't recite this as if it were the same kind of literature as the first reading. It's not just history to be read in a matter-of-fact tone. You have to make it sound like the fantastic vision that it is.
Corbis Images says of this work, "This fresco is the most famous of the early Christian paintings, dating from the 4th century A.D. The fresco, from the Catacomb of Saints Pietro e Marcellino in Rome, depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd. | Located in: Rome. Corbis Images" This particular graphic is compressed from one on the website of artist and online art teacher Kenney Mencher.
Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.
This page updated February 18, 2016