Summary: In a world hungry for meaning, hungry for joy, hungry for hope, we must share the story of Christ and His Church.
Monday of 4th week of Easter
In Palestine, sheep have been for dozens of generations the basis of animal husbandry. Sheep produce milk and wool–they are not used for meat. Sheep are also pretty stupid, so they need shepherds to keep them from getting into trouble and being killed. Every night the sheep are driven in from pasture to a kind of low-walled fort where they spend the dark hours. The shepherds take turns guarding the flock–one stays up all night, right in the little entrance to the sheepfold. He is the gate. Then, the next morning, each shepherd comes to the sheepfold and calls out to his own sheep, who hear and follow him. Sometimes they even have special names for each sheep.
Obviously, whoever does not pass through the gate to get to the sheep is an enemy–a wolf or robber.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is also the gate to the sheepfold. The two roles are one. His relationship with us is not that of a user, but of a friend, one who nurtures us toward growth. Like sheep, we know the voice of Jesus, and we can tell his voice from that of a stranger, or someone who wants to seduce us into a new doctrine. We know Jesus’s voice because His word is clear. He always calls us to do good, to pray, to celebrate His presence and His grace. The stranger, the heretic, the morally perverse are easy to identify. They are constantly telling us we can get something for nothing, that God’s law is restricting us from enjoying ourselves. They tell us to look out for number one, to grab all the pleasure we can. They run from service; they are users, destroyers.
The way to be certain we will always recognize the voice of Jesus is to listen to that voice often, by reading Scripture, by sharing our faith with others, by celebrating the sacraments and divine office. If Jesus is to be the Good Shepherd, then we must be attentive to our role to be better and better sheep for his sheepfold.
Now the sheepfold is guarded, but how does it grow? Jesus intended for His flock, His Church, to encompass all humankind, to be available to every person on earth, from the first century to the end of time and His return. That is why the Church is ever seeking to expand Her ministries and “plant” new churches. But that universality was not immediately obvious to the apostles, even though Jesus, in His last words before ascending to the Father, told them to go and teach all nations. All the original apostles were Jews. Jews had come for that first real Pentecost from communities all over the empire, and after Peter spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thousands were converted and baptized, and returned to their foreign communities with the good news of Jesus’s Resurrection. But they were all still considering themselves to be Jews, Jews in the Way of Jesus the Messiah.
Today we read of Peter’s miraculous vision and visitation, which led to the baptism of the Holy Spirit on a group of Gentiles in Caesarea Maritima, the Roman city on the coast of Israel. Three times, while he was in prayer, Peter, in Joppa, saw a vision of all kinds of animals being offered to him to slaughter and eat: kosher and unclean alike. Peter protested but heard what he interpreted as divine words saying: “What God has cleansed you must not call unclean.” And then men came to him from Caesarea indicating an opportunity to share the Gospel there. We don’t know how the Holy Spirit told Peter to go with them–perhaps by a prophecy from one of the Joppa disciples. But he went there, and heard about a vision of angels. He had just begun his sermon about Jesus when the Holy Spirit fell on those unbaptized, uncircumcised people, and concluded that all people who wanted the life in Christ Jesus were clean, and eligible to become Christ’s disciples. The story became part of the Church’s canon of truths, and that’s why most of us who have never been Jews have had the offer of salvation in Christ.
What does that mean for us today? It means that in a world hungry for meaning, hungry for joy, hungry for hope, we must share the story of Christ and His Church. Because Jesus Christ is the answer to every one of our problems, and the sure and certain Way to salvation and eternal life.