Year B—Lectionary #50, Gospel John 10: 11–18
During the Easter season we rejoice with deep emotion as we contemplate and give thanks for the most precious gift that God has given us: the salvation and redemption that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We encounter many rousing passages of the scriptures at Sunday masses which move us to praise and glorify the Lord on account of this gift, and we also hear some very challenging words that remind us that the eternal life in Christ we anticipate and rejoice in is a grace that we have not earned. Going further we hear how this grace can be neglected to the point of losing it, or can be outright rejected, with the same sad result.
This fourth Sunday of the Easter season, if we listen carefully, we hear a message that can spur us to action to avoid the possibility of such a loss. But if our ears and hearts are not attentive then we can be led astray without even noticing it.
In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter stands up in the midst of the crowd in Jerusalem and announces to the assembled scribes, leaders, and elders of the Jewish people that the crippled man they had just seen healed by Peter was in fact healed by the power of: “Jesus Christ the Nazorean, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead”. Peter continues: “He is ‘the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.’ There is no salvation through anyone else…” (Acts 4:10-12).
These words, while reminding the attentive listener to redouble his or her efforts to give thanks to God for the salvation we have in Christ, can equally sour the heart of the inattentive listener or reader, who, with “all the people of Israel” (Acts 4:10) in mind, focuses on the words: “Jesus Christ the Nazorean, whom you crucified”. Such an association between the death of Jesus and the people who happened to immediately surround him at the time of his death makes us forget that we too were there, if by way of anticipation: we all contributed to the death of Christ, just as we can all reap the surpassing benefits of his resurrection and the redemption it brings.
Looking to the gospel for guidance, we hear our Lord saying: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:11-18). In John’s gospel these words almost certainly refer to the gentiles—those people who were not Jewish—yet ironically they can be turned about and applied by us modern-day gentiles to the very Jewish people from among whom Jesus came in the flesh (see Romans 9:4-5). Thus they recall that just as all people contributed to the death of Jesus, so also all people can, in the mysterious design of God, find salvation through Christ, even if by a hidden path.
My late Benedictine confrere, Father Demetrius Dumm, who for many years was a writer of this column, used to remind his students in the seminary to place themselves in the shoes, not of those who are triumphant or being extolled in the scriptures, but rather in the shoes of those who were being warned or admonished. This simple thought helps to keep us humble, and to be more fully open to the messages being conveyed in the Bible, lest we too quickly number ourselves among the “holy” or the “enlightened”, and thus lose the impact of the scriptures’ teaching.
In the present case, remembering that we were once among the “other sheep” may open our hearts to welcome all who, even by different paths, seek the loving kindness of the one Good Shepherd.
Father Edward M. Mazich, O.S.B.