Monday in the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 11:1ff. Peter explains how it was under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration that he baptised the first pagan converts.
John 10:1ff. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who keeps his sheep safe from harm.
Gathering the Flock
The gift of the Holy Spirit is personal, reaching into the depths of our heart and mind; it is also powerful, summoning us to heroic acts and new ways of life. Important moments of our personal, individual life can happen with startling abruptness, as they can for the entire Church. Peter finds himself baptizing gentiles, not so that they may receive the Holy Spirit but because already they have been graced by the Spirit in wonderful ways. Even though he was an observant Jew who, like Jesus, kept the dietary laws and other observances of his people, Peter still could not refuse baptism for a single moment. Without instructing the gentiles in the Jewish law, he baptized them!
At the same time, he recognises the bonds of family and continuity. Peter was challenged by other members of the Church and he explained his reason. Here we see the need to continue who we are as a community of faith. The early Church will expend much energy in discussing still further this insight that gentiles can be received into the Church without first becoming Jews. Paul will devote much of his energy to this question. This dynamic in the Church where questions are thrashed out theologically with an eye to tradition and earlier practices, was anticipated by Jesus in the parable of the Good Shepherd. In this story Jesus knows each of his sheep by name. He calls each one by a sound which reaches into the depths of their memory, all the way back to their birth when each one was given a name and a vocation for life. Each change in life, whether for the group or for the individual, must be kept in continuity not only with each person’s past life but even with his ancestry from whom life and name have been received. Each change in life, moreover, must answer a personal call and touch a chord of love.
Because the Good Shepherd calls us by our name and leads us back and forth from our ancestry into our future, Jesus also compares himself to the door of the sheepfold. The means by which we go back and forth turns out to be Jesus himself. Through Jesus we slip backward into our subconscious, into the depths of life, and become absorbed in the mystery of our existence. We hear our name spoken by Jesus; we experience the betrothal of love and a union of ecstasy. Through Jesus, we pass through a door into our very best self, our name as spoken by Jesus.
Through this same door, which is Jesus, we are called to go forth into the activity of daily life, to mingle with other people, to form family, neighborhood and workcrew, schools and clubs, activities and plans. To hear Jesus summon us by name, and to pass through the gate which is Himself, we go beyond the sheepfold into the wider world about us. Here we are led to quench our thirst. Yet, at sundown we pass again through the same door, which is Jesus, as the sound of our name is spoken by the same Good Shepherd, and we are led back into the depths of ourselves, in silent prayer, in sleep.
In all this movement, as in all this rest, Jesus is at the center, and yet Jesus loses himself in us. He calls our name in order to summon us forth to nourishment and pasture as well as to call us back to the silent prayer of the sheepfold. Jesus, in many ways so silent that we do not realize his presence, lays down his life for his sheep. He dies, in the same way that parents die within their children. Parents’ hopes and dreams are so caught up within the lives of their children that the father and mother no longer seem to have their own existence. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
In all these extraordinary moments, when the spirit seems to act abruptly and to lead us beyond our expectations, as happened to Peter in Acts of the Apostles, when the spirit leads us to lay down our life as our best plans and ideals are lost within a family, a community or a church, these are the times when we hear our names best, as spoken by Jesus.
First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.
At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Gospel: John 10:1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.