The 4th Sunday of Easter – 8 May 2022
Lectionary Readings: Acts 13:14. 43-52; Ps. 100:1-3. 5; Rev. 7:9. 14-17; Jn. 10:27-30Theme: Jealousy & Hardship of the Sheep 

I suppose jealousy between siblings is somewhat inevitable. I remember being jealous of my younger sister at times in childhood, and as an adult, I had to learn that someone else’s successes did not detract from my own. Even as a pastor, it can sometimes be challenging to celebrate another church’s growing attendance, while we face decline. This week in Acts we read the juxtaposition of jealousy and faithfulness to grace.

Paul understood the temptations of jealousy, warning his followers to hold faithfully to grace. And yet, they could not overcome the inevitable jealousy of seeing their city responding to this new thing. Even recent converts to Judaism responded, seemingly undoing the significant investment synagogue leaders had made in their lives. Church leaders know how painful it can be to mentor and support someone, only to have them walk away when a new church opens down the street. We do not know the entire story, but it is reasonable to think leaders felt betrayed…and jealousy arose.

While we typically focus on those who said yes to the Good News, this week’s lectionary readings left me thinking about those who responded with jealousy. How did their stories end? What came to mind as they sang Psalm 100 as part of their daily prayers? “Serve the Lord with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy! Know that the Lord is God—he made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture.” (Ps. 100:1b-3) Did they recall the celebration and joy of Paul’s crowds? (Acts 13:48. 52) Were they reminded of their identity as the loved and known sheep, protected by their Shepherd? (Ps. 100:5; Jn 10:27-29) Even if they were not, we can be. Even when we too struggle with jealousy: God shepherds his entire flock – the joyful and jealous sheep, the obedient and unruly ones. 

The great crowd in Revelation, made up of every tribe and nation, assures us Paul’s seemingly unilateral declaration that “the Jews” rejected God’s word and were unworthy to receive eternal life is indeed false. Instead the Good Shepherd had guided many to safety, albeit their journeys may have been more challenging than others. Revelation’s reference to those worshipers who “have come out of great hardship,” (Rev. 7:14) reminded me again of the jealous, slanderous individuals in Acts. They too had experienced hardship as their lives were turned upside down by these traveling teachers. What if we saw our adversaries as those who “have come out of great hardship” or those who succumbed to jealousy, failing to hold faithfully to grace? What if we looked upon them, not just ourselves, as the sheep of God’s pasture? Perhaps our own jealousy might be waylaid, and replaced by grace.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How have you been tempted by jealousy? How does Paul’s admonition to “remain faithful to grace” apply in your current circumstances? 2. How have you experienced God shepherding you? Has that changed in different seasons of your life? 3. Discuss the questions in the final paragraph above. How might they transform potentially challenging interactions with others? 

Bibliography: Levine, AJ. “Holy Week and the Hatred of the Jews: Avoiding Anti-Judaism at Easter” online at ABC Religion & Ethics (Australia: 2015).

This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Rev. Dr. Kristen Bennett Marble
, USA, Bat Kol Alumna: 2013


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