First Reading Commentary
Although Paul and Barnabas are Christians, the word "Sabbath" here is still a reference to the Jewish Sabbath (the seventh day), not the Christian Sabbath (the first day), for Paul and Barnabas entered the Jewish synagogue.
From this Reading it is clear that the choice is ours whether or not to be disciples of Christ. God has given us free will and would never take that away from us because it would be contrary to His superabundant love for us.
All three Readings today imply that choosing to follow Jesus leads to eternal life. This Reading does state, however, that all who were destined for eternal life came to believe. That word "destined" has been the source of many theological differences of opinion over the centuries. Some have argued that anything destined impedes upon our free will. Although this is a great mystery, the Church does not accept the belief that our free will is ever tampered with. It is certain that God is infallible and has knowledge of all things past, present and future. His foreknowledge, however, never interferes with humanity's liberty; therefore, assuming sound mental health, all of us are responsible for our own actions. Again, this is a great mystery which led the Council of Trent to advise us that it is better to submit to the mysteries of our faith rather than argue about these mysteries which are impossible to understand. Saint Augustine once said: "How much wiser and better it is to confess our ignorance on mysteries, than idly dispute on mysteries!"
The choices we make are solely ours but since God has foreknowledge of all things to come, He already knows what choices we will make. Paul and Barnabas are quoting from the prophet Isaiah with the words: "I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).
The opening verse makes it clear that Christ's saving grace is intended for every nation, race, people, and tongue.
The white robes worn by the great multitude represents those who have been purified and cleansed from sin by the merits and grace of Christ crucified. They have followed in the Footsteps of Jesus by carrying their cross. Now they stand before God's Throne worshipping Him day and night. These are the saints. While this Reading speaks of so many souls that have gone before us, surely it is our hope that this Reading is also prophetic in the sense that this will be our future, if one can use the word future when speaking of eternity.
It is our prayer that we will survive our own time of great distress by staying close to Jesus, trusting that He will lead us to springs of life-giving water whereby we will have the privilege of singing His praises before His Throne. For it is the Lamb Who is in the center of the Throne and we pray that He will shepherd us for all eternity.
Jesus said: "My sheep hear My Voice." Every word in this Gospel passage is spoken by Jesus. When read slowly and meditatively, there is an encompassing sense of intimacy that cannot be expressed in words; and Jesus desires to have that intimacy with all of us.
We, His sheep, hear His Voice and follow Him. Through prayer, sacred reading and charitable works it becomes vividly clear that His love surrounds us; and He assures us that no one can take us away from Him. Christ's enfolding and loving embrace offers comfort in times of trial and also carries us into eternal life.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:10-14) is a reassuring reminder that Jesus wishes all to be saved and desires not to lose any of His sheep. At Mass the Voice of Jesus is heard in the Liturgy of the Word; and the Word of God, the Bread of Life nourishes souls by making Himself present to us truly, really and substantially in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Anyone who lives in the Middle East would have a clearer understanding of what Jesus means when He says: "My sheep hear My Voice; I know them, and they follow Me." Many of us have never witnessed a shepherd and his sheep interact. Father Benedict Groeschel, was a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, as well as an author, psychologist, and well-known EWTN personality. He once shared a story of his visit to the Holy Land in which he watched shepherds work with their sheep. He said that there were a bunch of sheep walking around along with three shepherds. He said that the shepherds split up and each walked into a different direction, and then made a whistling sound with their mouths. The sheep, which were all bunched together, then began to divide and walk towards the direction of their own particular shepherd; each of them recognized their own shepherd’s whistle and followed him.