A reflection by Fr. John Carten, SFM, on the Fourth Monday of Easter, Acts 11.1-18; John 10.11-18
Today we hear the continuation of the passage from John’s Gospel describing Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Again the emphasis is on the incredible love that Jesus has as a shepherd for all. The life of a shepherd in Israel was dangerous work because of attacks both by robbers and by wolves. Many shepherds lost their lives defending the sheep that they loved. Hired help would often run away to save their own lives. Jesus tells us he is not like that. He is with us for the long haul. The depth of his love is shown by the fact that Jesus willingly lays down his life for us.
Jesus uses another description to elevate the love he has towards us to a whole new level of intensity. He says, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” (John 10.14-15)
To know means to love deeply. It is impossible for us to grasp the incredible relationship of love that is shared between Father, Son, and Spirit. Yet Jesus is reminding us that this is the same love that he has towards us, his sheep.
Finally, he lets us knows that this is not an exclusive kind of love but an inclusive one. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice.” (John 10.16)
Biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown, in one of his books on John’s Gospel called “The Community of the Beloved Disciple,” says that various ideas are developed here. “Other sheep” first of all referred to Christians of the Apostolic Churches centred around Peter’s memory. These Christians were later joined by the Johannine Christians, centred around the beloved disciple, to become the one great Church of Christians.
From the standpoint of his Jewish followers, Jesus is also referring to the many Gentiles that He was to gather into his flock.
Today we can also look at it in terms of all those people who are not Christians but who live in accordance with the gospels and who live by the values of the kingdom even though many of them have never heard of Christ.
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice.” (John 10.16)
By his words, Christ is saying that he will gather us all together into the kingdom of God, into the relationship of love.
In the reading from Acts today, of the experience of Peter and the early Church, we are given a very concrete example of how these words of Jesus were realized.
Peter goes to Jerusalem to share his experience in the house at Jaffa (Joppa) and later in the home of the Gentile Cornelius in Caesarea. The Spirit has led Peter to see that all food is sacred and is a blessing from God, thereby opening up the path of table fellowship between Jews and Gentile Christians.
Then Peter is led to the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, where right before Peter’s eyes the Gentiles are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is in fact an extension to the Gentiles of the event that various Jews experienced at Pentecost. “God gave them the same gift that he gave to us.” (Acts 11.17)
These events challenge us to recognize and be open to how God is working in new ways through the Spirit, among people in our times, to bring all nations into a unity in Christ. “That they may all be one as we are one.”
We are challenged to see that we, too, must be open to learning from other Catholics or Christians who see things differently than we do. And we must be open to learning from people of other faiths or people of no faith, to see how the Spirit may be working through them to lead us deeper into the truth.
Our God is inclusive and so are we challenged to be the same.