Saint Polycarp – Readings

Saint Polycarp – Commentary on Revelation 2:8-11; Ps 22; John 10:11-16

In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd is loyal to his sheep and protects them. When he sees danger coming, he will not run away. This is what a hired shepherd will not do. As soon as he sees the wolf coming, he will run away, thinking only of his own safety and ignoring the sheep for which he is responsible. The good shepherd is ready to give his life for his sheep. This is what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, did. This is what Polycarp, bishop and shepherd, also did. The good shepherd also knows each one of his sheep and has given a name to each one. They know him also and, when he calls them, they recognise his voice and follow him. They will not follow any other shepherd, however enticing he may be.

The First Reading is taken from the Book of Revelation. It is from the first part of the book which consists of a series of letters to seven Christian communities from towns in what would now be called western Turkey – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Some of the letters are laudatory and some are critical. Our reading is taken from the letter to the ‘church in Smyrna’. Polycarp, of course, would become bishop of Smyrna. This letter is one of encouragement. “I know your tribulations and poverty,” says the writer, “but you are rich.” They were (unlike some of the other towns) materially poor but spiritually rich. They were being attacked by some Jews among them for being followers of Christ. They are told not to be afraid, even though they may face suffering and hardship. “The devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested… Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Polycarp, too, will face similar challenges and will surrender his life, though in Rome and not in Smyrna. Let us pray that our churches will be led by dedicated shepherds who are close to their flocks and are ready to give their lives in their service. Let each one of us, too, make our own contribution to the life and well-being of our communities.

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