27Apr 27th April. Monday, Week 4 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Peter explains how by inspiration he baptised the first pagan converts.

The apostles and believers 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

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who keeps his sheep safe from harm.

“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.”


Christian Leadership

The gift of the Holy Spirit is proactive, reaching into the depths of our personality; it is powerful, summoning us to new ways of life. When he left Jerusalem and went to coastal Caesarea to tend Christ’s flock, Peter found himself baptizing the Roman soldier, Cornelius, and his household because he recognised they were already graced by the Spirit of God. Although Peter was an observant Jew, like Jesus, obeying the dietary laws and other observances of his people, he could not refuse baptism to people who sincerely searched for God. So without instructing them in Jewish law, he baptized them straight away!

What splendid leadership Peter shows, pointing the way forward for the church into the future. He also shows a spirit of dialogue, equally vital for  our church of today. When challenged about his daring initiative, Peter patiently explains himself.  His leadership style is not dictatorial but it blends clarity and dialogue. Gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews, because Peter had decisively opened the door.

This dynamic in the church where questions are worded out theologically with an eye to tradition while yet being open to new and startling manifestations of the Holy Spirit, was anticipated by Jesus in the parable of the Good Shepherd. This Shepherd knows each sheep by name, calls each one by a sound which reaches into the depths of the person. Each change in life, whether for the group or for the individual, must be in continuity not only with our past life but also with him from whom our spiritual life is received, the Good Shepherd who calls us by our name.

In times like ours too the Spirit may intervene surprisingly and lead our church leaders to new decisions beyond our expectations, as happened to Peter in the days of the Apostles. As we approach Pentecost, we and our church leaders must seek to be attuned to what the Spirit wants to change in our church, to make us more effective instruments of the grace of Jesus for the men, women and young people of our day.


Good Shepherding

Jesus draws a striking contrast between the good shepherd and the hired man. Both share the same role, that of looking after and caring for the sheep. For the hired man, however, the role is just a job; it is a means to an end, the end being the salary he will get in return. He takes on the role for profit, so that if what he has to give outweighs what he is paid, he will walk away from the role; if, at some point, the role becomes too demanding, he will simply turn his back on it.

For the good shepherd, the role is not just a job; it is a loving commitment. The good shepherd takes on the role not primarily to get something out of it, but to give something in it. Indeed, Jesus describes the good shepherd as one who is prepared to give nothing less than everything, his own life. Jesus is the good shepherd in that sense. Jesus has approached us, has entered into a relationship with us, not to get something from us, but to give everything to us. God gives everything to us by giving us Christ as the good shepherd who gives his life for us. St Paul puts it very eloquently in his letter to the Romans, “God who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” [Martin Hogan]

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