CNS photo/Paul Haring.

God’s mercy allows us to repent

  • April 30, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A) May 11 (Acts 2:14a, 36b-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10)

Peter’s words rolled across the crowd like the voice of doom. They were thunderstruck at his message: somehow they had crucified the one whom God had designated as Lord and Messiah.

How does one undo a blunder like that? Peter hastened to reassure them that it had been done out of ignorance. Even now they had a chance — if they repented and were baptized, they could be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift was available to all, near and far, for a new spiritual order was dawning. Many leapt at the chance and were added to the number of those being saved.

When we read this passage, it is important to recognize that Luke crafted the story according to his own theological concerns — especially his desire to show the supersession of Israel by the Church. He also wrote with an apocalyptic outlook, believing in the imminent destruction of the wicked and the return of Jesus. We should not draw the conclusion that all those who failed to accept Jesus then or afterwards are rejected by God or spiritually inferior. That generation was not more perverse or wicked than any other, including our own. Christians have been complicit in huge moral tragedies over the centuries. Crusades, inquisitions, genocide against indigenousness people and the sexual abuse of children are but a few examples. We cannot undo the past, but we can realize that these actions were done out of human ignorance and sin. Repentance and a resolution to make things right go a long way. St. John Paul II gave an inspiring example of this when he visited Jerusalem a few years ago. He placed a prayer in the Western Wall asking God’s forgiveness for the many instances of inhumanity and cruelty that Christians had inflicted on Jews over the centuries. God always gives people opportunities to repent and rectify negative decisions and conduct. Mercy is another name for God.

No one likes to suffer, but suffering for what is right, just and true at least brings a bit of inner satisfaction. Sometimes it does not, and often this occurs when people are under the illusion that they are going to be applauded and praised for standing on their principles. They soon find out that this is seldom the case, and they can slip into cynicism and bitterness when they are ridiculed or persecuted. Even worse, it is all too easy to respond in kind with anger and hatred. We are gently admonished in 1 Peter to accept resistance and persecution graciously when it is for the right cause. After all, the one whom we claim to follow did exactly that, so no less is expected of us.

How does one know whom to follow? So numerous are the conflicting assertions bombarding us that it is easy to be left wondering if it is ever possible to discern the truth. But it’s not as difficult as it appears. This rather mysterious parable of the shepherd and the sheep gate gives us a thoughtful guide. Words that truly reflect the truth and compassion of God have a certain ring or quality to them that the spiritually sensitive and inquiring soul will recognize. There is an attraction and validation on an intuitive level. We recognize the authenticity of the one who proclaims God’s Word.

Is there the possibility of deception? Certainly — but there is a little test that Jesus added. How does the alleged shepherd behave? Is he in it for himself, perhaps using his position for self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of power, wealth or status? Does he ask for our freedom, critical faculties or unquestioning allegiance? Does he cut and run when there is danger or difficulty? A true shepherd stands by his flock prepared to lay down his life for them and he shares their lot. False shepherds have been the ruin of not only the Church but every religious and political body.

Jesus added one final but crucial test. He has come so that those who listen to His voice might have life abundantly. He is not speaking only of the hereafter, but of this present life. True words, spoken by a true spokesperson of God, give new life, growth, hope, justice, peace and compassion to those with open hearts and minds.