Collect of the Day:
Father, through the obedience of Jesus your servant and your Son, you raised a fallen world. Free us from sin and bring us the joy that lasts for ever.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ your Son Our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ever One God world without end. Amen.
The First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 11:1-18: God can give the gentiles the repentance that leads to eternal life.
The Gospel: John 10:1-10: The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
Today in the reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we see that St. Peter is accused by the other Apostles and brothers that were in Judea for associating with the ‘Pagans’:
“So you have been visiting the uncircumcised and eating with them have you?”
This would have been unthinkable to anybody who had grown up under the Law of the Hebrew Religion of the day. An almost unbelievable event to conceive of, especially for an Apostle. Peter went on to explain the vision he had from the Lord and what was said to him by God:
“What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”
He also explained that the ‘Pagans’ also received the Holy Spirit exactly in the same way as the Apostles themselves did on the day of Pentecost, and we are told that this explanation was enough to satisfy Peter’s accusers. Though this did not entirely end all the controversy on this matter as we find in the Letters of St. Paul, he too would come under the same scrutiny and attacks from those who could not accept the leading of the Holy Spirit or change and longed for the status quo to be kept. In fact a group called the Ebionites separated themselves from other believers and formed their own sect which followed strictly the Jewish customs and Laws of the period.
Why would the preaching to the non Hebrew races be controversial to our first Christian Brothers and Sisters? Mainly to be a member of the Hebrew Religion at that time meant you were part of a separated people. And this separation was what contributed to the holiness of the nation or so it was believed. They were separated by their belief in the One God by the Rite of Circumcision and their dietary laws. They thought they knew how God worked and were reluctant to any change.
How is this relevant to us today? It is because today we find just as many people who want to limit the Grace and Mercy of God. Ultra conservitives and ultra liberals each of whom condemn others that do not see God in their terms. There are people who believe the changes made by Vatican II were wrong and that the Novus Ordo Mass is illegitimate and on the other side of the spectrum you find those who believe that the Ressurection was a nice story to help Jesus’s followers cope with the tragedy of His death and that Jesus was nothing more than a good person, a role model or something similar.
What we need to find is a Via Media, or middle way between the two extremes. The major problem is that God is a LIVING GOD. And when you try to put anything living neatly into a box it becomes a prisoner. What ultimately happens when we label or limit God in any way, we begin to create a God that is in our own image, and this is not the God of the Bible. As Fr. Laurence Freeman OSB says in his book ‘Jesus the Teacher Within’:
“When Christians arrogantly draw a sharp line between Jesus and other people it soon becomes obvious that it is actually Jesus and the sectarians who are standing on opposite sides. Whenever a Christian judges or excludes others he condemns himself as a disciple.”
This is why the Icon I chose for today’s reflection is very important to this discussion. It is by Br. Robert Lentz OFM who describes its meaning as:
“The icon does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on. Is he imprisoned or are we? Through our cultural institutions and personal lives we all place barriers between ourselves and true happiness. We and our institutions also try to imprison Christ in various ways, to tame him and the dangerous memories he would bring us of our goals and ideals. “
I would like to leave you with a saying used often by my Archbishop ++Philip Zimmerman SJ/RSJ;
“We are called to be Shepherds (Pastors) not judges, the world already has enough Judges.”
Almighty God and Father, through your Son’s self abasement you raised up the world when it lay prostrate. You have rescued your faithful from enslavement to sin: fill them with a holy joy, and give them happiness for ever.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ your Son Our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit ever One God, world without end. Amen.