It happens to everybody at some point. You do someone a good turn, and you get in big trouble for it. Today, we hear Peter defending himself before the guardians of orthodoxy. Poor Peter is accused of healing a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus. (See the whole account in Acts 3-4.) As the story goes, Peter's responses culminate with the question of choosing whether to obey God or men, even -- or especially -- when the men claim the sanction of religious authority.
|Fourth Sunday of Easter|
1 John 3:1-2
As in the case of Jesus himself, we have here people who represent a belief system and its bureaucracy in conflict with others who have acted on behalf of the suffering without conforming to standard doctrinal correctness. But that's actually not the centerpiece of today's readings.
As we listen to Peter defending his good deed, he says that he carried it out in the power of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean. That's really quite an assertion. When we push it to the logical conclusion, we realize that Peter is claiming that Christ is living and acting in him.
That's trouble for him because the authorities believe Jesus deserved to die. Peter is a problem to them because of the obvious good he's accomplishing in that name. Underlying all the conflict here is the question of who is in communion with God, who is truly acting in God's name.
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When Peter told the beggar, "In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk" (Acts 3:6), he was saying something more profound than we might first notice. To use the name of God or Jesus in that way was almost a sacramental action. By speaking in Jesus' name, Peter put himself totally at Christ's disposal, allowing Christ to accomplish his mission through him.
At that moment, Peter was not only healing a needy person, but he also entered into communion with the risen Lord. That helps us to make sense of his statement that salvation comes through the name of Christ: For him, communion with God is what salvation is all about.
Our other two readings reflect on additional dimensions of salvation-communion. The First Letter of John invites us to walk down memory lane with God and "see what love the Father has bestowed on us."
John wants us to take time to cherish the signs we have seen of God's love in our lives. Doing that will lead us to the marvelous realization that we are God's own beloved ones. Believing that is one of the greatest and most important acts of faith we can make.
In the Gospel today, Jesus uses the treasured metaphor of the shepherd to describe his relationship with us. When we explore his use of the image, we realize this goes much further than the consoling idea we know from Psalm 23. In the psalm, we speak of ourselves as the ones God leads and feeds, the ones to whom God gives rest and longed-for refreshment. All of that is good, but it doesn't hold a candle to what Jesus says about us as his own sheep.
When Jesus talks about himself and the sheep, he describes an intimacy that goes beyond even what John talked about in the second reading. We are not just "God's own children," but we are invited into the same relationship of identity that Christ shares with the Father. He promises that we can know him as he knows us, as he and the Father know one another.
That means that as we choose the relationship Christ offers, we are choosing the grace of union of heart, mind and will with Christ himself. We are choosing identification with him -- a unity more profound than that of any human relationship.
Today's readings invite us to communion as the deepest and most pervasive experience of our life. Happily, they begin with Peter, our patron saint of "keep trying."
The message we hear today reflects on both the active and the contemplative dimensions of our Christian life, helping us to remember that the two always go together. The more we "see what love the Father has bestowed on us" the more we will be able to believe in Jesus as the Shepherd who ushers us into sharing the life of God. The more we share mind and heart with Christ, the more we will want to act in his name, allowing our communion to make Christ and the reign of God more present in our world. There's more, but as John says, we aren't ready to understand it.
Finally, realizing that the communion we are seeking and being offered is communion with the Christ who was crucified, we'll be as prepared as humanly possible for the rejection and even persecution that will surely come our way.
Peter, patron of "keep trying," pray for us!
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]