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God's Word on Sunday: Jesus opened the path to God to all

  • April 18, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 25 (Year B) Acts 4:7-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

Even the hostile authorities could not deny that Peter and John had performed a great healing miracle. But they wanted to know who or what was behind it — whose power were they channeling.

Healings and miracles were not seen as out of the ordinary in the ancient world, but there were many different sources of power and not all of them were healthy. Their answer was swift and to the point: Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

Peter was making it clear that Jesus was indeed alive and at work. Even though He had been rejected, Jesus was now the cornerstone of a new spiritual edifice, the temple of the Holy Spirit present in His believers. Peter followed with some words that require thoughtful reflection and theological unpacking. He insisted that there was salvation in Jesus alone and there was no other name by which people could be saved.

This is not surprising in that time and context, for they waited in expectation of the imminent Day of the Lord and the final judgment. But this has often been interpreted in the most stringent terms. No one can be saved that is not a card-carrying Christian in good standing, and some would add a Christian of the correct variety. This effectively eliminates three-quarters of the human race.

We should not be comfortable or at peace with that interpretation. It has contributed to the bigotry and division in our world and has also fuelled intolerance and violence towards those who walk a different path. It is clear that Jesus is unique in light of His life, death and resurrection. But Jesus was never stingy with grace, and often praised those that showed faith and goodness even though they were outsiders.

Barriers and labels never seemed to count for much in His eyes. Jesus went before us to open the path to God. The path is open to those who are with Jesus in spirit if not in name — those whose lives are given to kindness, humility, active compassion and service.

This journey to God is one of transformation. The first step is becoming children of God, which means being reborn in God by the Spirit. God begins to shine through those so reborn. Their thoughts, words, deeds and feelings become more of a reflection of God than human fears, greed or selfishness. Children of God are in a process of learning and maturing spiritually. John was not entirely sure what lay in the future, except that believers were becoming like Jesus. And that is the centre of our faith — not merely being saved but becoming like Jesus.

Being entrusted with the care of others is both a privilege and a great responsibility, for it calls for accountability to a higher standard. It is extremely disillusioning and hurtful to others when that trust is betrayed. Reading about corrupt or abusive politicians, teachers, doctors, police officers or public figures is depressing. It can overshadow the many fine examples of dedication one can find everywhere, even of those that give their lives for others.

This sense of hurt and betrayal is most keenly felt when those entrusted with the faith life and spiritual care of others use their positions for self-aggrandizement and gratification. As so many revelations of these failures are made, many feel let down by both God and the Church.

It is nothing new — Jesus was aware of this problem and spoke to it in His parable of the Good Shepherd. He contrasted the hired hands, who were in it just for themselves, with those that were truly dedicated. The hired hand takes off at the first sign of danger with no thought for the flock, while the good shepherd not only stays but lays down his life for the sheep.

People are complicated and they are weak. We should avoid cynicism, but at the same time, we need to beware of giving absolute and uncritical trust and obedience to anyone. Pedestals are dangerous and unreliable.

Jesus portrayed Himself as the Good Shepherd — the one who does not run away and is definitely not in it for himself. He laid down His life for the flock and continues to do so. Jesus should be the focus of our trust for He will never let us down.

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