TRIALS AND PERSECUTIONS
(A biblical refection on THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER [YEAR C] – April 17, 2016)
Gospel Reading: John 10:27-30
First Reading: Acts 13:14,43-52; Psalms: Psalm 100:2,3,5; Second Reading: Revelation 7:9,14-17
The Scripture Text
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 RSV)
The greater the expectations, the greater the degree of disappointment can be. We expect a great deal from God, and He also expects a great deal from us. We usually expect from God what only God can give – and some more besides. Among these great expectations of ours is the one which holds that God should protect us from all harm. The God who has formed a covenant with us should also provide for us and defend us in times of stress. Some go even further. They hold that God should allow no trial or suffering to come our way at all. Today, however, our readings speak of persecutions and tribulations.
The first reading is about the trials and persecutions of Paul and Barnabas. The second reading from the book of Revelation and the Gospel reading have to do with vindication and God’s fidelity. In the final analysis we can trust God. The trials we endure only make sense and are bearable in the light of the One in whose name we stand firm – Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation contains the great scene in which those who have “survived the great period of trial” are now safe in the presence of God. The Lamb has won the victory. “He will lead them to springs of the life-giving water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” And ours as well, of course.
Today’s Gospel reading employs the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The sheep always find themselves in vulnerable positions. The wolf is always ready to snatch them away. Too often the shepherd is nothing but hired hand. In the face of danger he flees. Money is never enough to evoke the kind of courage and commitment necessary to resist the evil one. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for those who follow Him and hear His voice. This care requires even the giving up of His life. Jesus’ followers may have to do the same in order to remain faithful to Him. But even in the face of death, God’s love is at work saving and bringing home all who hear His voice and respond. “I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perished.”
The great Jesuit priest and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin [1881-1955] has written the following concerning the trials we encounter and the seeming absence of God:
“To justify this obscurity, so strangely incompatible with the divine sun, scholars explain that the Lord deliberately hides Himself in order to test our love. One has to be hopelessly lost in intellectual games, or never to have encountered either in oneself or others the suffering of doubt, not to see what is detestable in such an answer. O my God, Your creatures stand before You, lost and in anguish, appealing for Your help. To have them rush to You, it would be enough to show them a single ray of Your light, the fringe of Your coat – and You would not do this for them?”
This quote ended with a question. But there is more to His words:
“No, God does not hide Himself to make us search for Him, of that, I am sure – much less to let us suffer in order to increase our merits. On the contrary, bent down over His creation which moves upward to Him, He works with all His power to give us happiness and light. Like a mother He watches over His newly born child. But our eyes are unable to see Him yet. Is not precisely the whole course of centuries needed in order for our gaze to accustom itself to the light? (Pierre Telhard de Chardin, How I Believe).
Short Prayer: Heavenly Father, I believe that even in the darkness of our trials and persecutions, the light of Your love is shining. I pray for the wisdom to see and know that the light shines in the darkness and that it is not overcome. Amen.
(Adapted from Rev. William F. Maestri, Grace upon Grace, Makati, Philippines: 1988, St. Paul Publications, pages 248-249.
Jakarta, 16 April 2016
A Christian Pilgrim