Michael Barnes S.J.
Acts 2.14, 36-41: Since Easter our attention has largely been devoted to the events surrounding the formation of the Church; without the Resurrection that sad little band of confused and inarticulate people would never have become the dominant force that spread so rapidly throughout the Roman Empire.
In today's readings we consider the response which must be made to the Good News, and the shepherd who leads us as we turn back to God.
Peter's Pentecost sermon ends up with the words, at once a proclamation and an indictment, that the whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ'.
On hearing this. Luke tells us that the crowd was 'cut to the heart' and asked what they should do. Peter gives us a summary of the way the new life of Christ takes root and grows. There are four stages: conversion. baptism in the name of Christ, leading to the forgiveness of sins
and the gilt of the Holy Spirit. . But what is the sin from which Peter's listeners are to turn back to God'? Luke's Gospel is notable for its theme of universal forgiveness; Gentiles as well as Jews are called to share in the heavenly banquet of God's Kingdom.
But, as Jesus told the Pharisees, 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5.32)'. The only ones excluded from the Kingdom are those who exclude themselves by refusing to admit their need of God — the self righteous.
Sin begins when we put self and not God at the centre of our lives; repentance begins when we realise that we can be wrong, accept our failure and turn back' — as the biblical metaphor puts it — to the God who constantly waits and cares.
1 Peter 2.20-25: The theme of ransom from slavery occurred in last week's second reading. Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, not by gold or silver, the Christian community has become 'a chosen race. a royal priesthood, a holy nation. God's Own people'. Now Peter describes the conduct which this new vocation demands.
Both Peter and Paul strike us at times as being overly submissive to the status quo. But the institution of slavery was accepted as a necessary part of the structure of society, and nothing they said was likely to change that.
Besides, the example of' Christ taught that patient suffering rather than violent protest gained God's approval and blessing. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you. leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.'
In the next verses. Peter describes in words which follow very closely the pattern taken from the fourth song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53.4-12), what even those who do right must expect to endure. True freedom comes not with the absence of external constraint but with the interior security of knowing that, having drifted and strayed like so many lost sheep. we have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of our souls'.
John 10.1-10: In the middle of Lent we had the lengthy episode of the man born blind. a story which had a dual purpose. telling not just how one person comes to the light but how many others, who should know better, remain entrenched in their own ignorance and blindness.
Those who think they know the answers — the self-righteous of our first reading — are condemned in Jesus' final words — 'if you were blind. you would have no guilt; but now that you say. We see', your guilt remains.' The next chapter — today's Gospel reading—begins with the discourse on the shepherd and the sheepfold. Jesus condemns the Pharisees — those who have just cast the man born blind out of the synagogue instead of caring for him — as false shepherds. 'thieves and brigands' who have tried to.get into the sheepfold by some devious means.
Only the true shepherd uses the proper gate; the sheep know his voice and follow him instantly.
Jesus' identification of himself as the shepherd is familiar; he expands on the idea later in the discourse. But he also says, 'I am the gate of the sheepfold'.
The reason for this second identification is not difficult to find. What is it that distinguishes the true shepherd from the false? Quite simply, the way they work. Is it in the open, in the light, or under cover of darkness, using underhand or illegitimate methods?
The good shepherd works openly — as do his successors, the apostles and teachers of the Church.