The voice of God will guard us on our path

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  • May 3, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A) May 15 (Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10)

Some of the crowd had been laughing and jeering at Peter and his companions, who seemed to be babbling and very emotional and excited about something. The conclusion of elements in the crowd: they had been in to the wine and were drunk.

Peter quickly disabuses them of this misconception. He explains (in the omitted verses) that this is the pouring out of the Spirit prophesied in Joel and that it signals the arrival of the end days. Things are going to be very different now because all believers were being empowered by the Spirit rather than a chosen few. Peter also relates the story of Jesus — the deeds of power and compassion, the wonders and signs, and His status as the one sent by God. He hurls a barbed accusation at his fellow Jews by recounting the betrayal and execution of Jesus. God reversed their judgment and affirmed the status and teachings of Jesus by raising Him from the dead. Peter drives home the point that Jesus is now enthroned as Lord and Messiah. As the import of his words sink in there is only stunned silence — then the inevitable question: what can we do now? But the gift that Jesus brings is for everyone and the invitation to be baptized is accepted by many that very day.

We should read the passage with a sense of God’s compassionate mercy and generosity. At the same time, we should not be swayed by some of Luke’s theological rhetoric: the Jewish people cannot be blamed for the death of Jesus — indeed, Peter even insists that it was preordained. And that generation was no more or less corrupt than any other generation. The story should also remind us of how easy it is for well-intentioned people to do what is very wrong due to fear or misunderstanding. Our own generation provides numerous examples.

Suffering is an age-old mystery — why do the innocent and the upright suffer? There are no clear-cut or easy answers except to find meaning in it and try to transform it into a helpful experience. It is far easier to suffer willingly when we know that it is for a just and noble cause or principle. The author of 1 Peter assures us that it is pleasing to God when we are willing to suffer for what is right.

Suffering experienced because of our own sins or stupidity doesn’t really count. The suffering itself is not what is important, it is the steadfastness and refusal to give in for the sake of convenience or comfort. Very dark things have occurred throughout history when good people were simply too frightened to take a stand and speak out.

Who are the thieves and bandits? Because religious faith is so powerful and connected with the deepest levels of the human person it is susceptible to misuse and corruption. Jesus contrasts His own style of ministry and care for souls with those for whom religion is a means to wealth and power. Those who fit the latter category are concerned with possessions, prestige, power over others and inflation of the ego rather than with the spiritual well-being of those who have been entrusted to their care. In recent years there have been distressing instances where reputation and institutional protection have been valued more than the safety and spiritual well-being of the faithful. For the true shepherd — exemplified by Jesus — the well-being of souls is the highest good.

There are many competing voices in the world and we are bombarded on all sides by conflicting ideas and claims. How can we ensure that we are following the right path? A deep and personal relationship with the one who is the good shepherd is the key to spiritual sanity and well-being. Voices that appeal to fear, emotions, resentment and control do not lead to God. The voice of the shepherd is distinguished from the others by the sense of peace, harmony with God, connection and unity with others, and sense of inner joy that following it brings. We have one who guards us on the path — let us learn to listen and follow.

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