First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
Responsorial Psalm: 42:2-3, 43:3-4
Gospel: John 10:1-10
The theme for this Monday’s readings centers on faithfulness to God’s invitation. A few weeks ago, we read in Acts how the Apostles testified before the Sanhedrin that they must obey the voice of the Lord rather than that of mere men. We praised their conviction because the voice of men was telling them to stop proclaiming salvation in the name of Jesus, and so these men could be thought of as adversaries. But what if the voice of men is offering constructive criticism, calling you to a higher standard of faithfulness? That seems to be the situation in this first reading, where the faithful in Jerusalem confront Peter about associating with non-Jews. From their perspective, Jesus was a Jewish Messiah, and Jesus had given them a mission to preach throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside as their first priority, and many times in his public ministry Jesus had said he was sent to the Children of Israel. Why, then, was Peter disobeying his duty and associating with outsiders?
These disciples have legitimate questions, and I think any of us in Peter’s situation could have a difficult time answering them. If our friends don’t have familiarity with the faith, or if we don’t know the faith well, or especially if we’re confronted by people who know only what they have heard, we can be in a very difficult position. For many Jews at that time, their whole religion and way of life was set up to avoid interactions with people who could tempt them to unfaithfulness, or any other sin against God.
But now we see the importance of prayer, and of our response to the Holy Spirit. Through daily prayer, Peter was prepared and able to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Peter was (finally) able to see that God had opened the covenant to all people, Jew and Gentile alike, so that “what God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” If Peter had rejected this call, or ended his prayer early, he might not have been present when the Spirit decided to work. Notice the joy that follows: the faithful had received a fuller explanation of how the Holy Spirit was working, offering redemption and salvation to the Gentiles, and they glorified God who had invited all people into the covenantal family.
Our Gospel reading for today echoes this same theme. Sheep are simple: creatures of habit. Shepherds were constantly talking to their sheep, so the animals knew their leader, and could follow him through a crowd of voices. In fact, to keep their sheep safe, oftentimes shepherds would keep their sheep in one area overnight, watching over the flocks in turns as the others slept. When morning came, each would call to their flock, and the sheep would follow the voice they recognized. This is an excellent image for our prayer; Jesus is our shepherd, constantly speaking to us through prayer. If we are new to daily prayer, we may not yet recognize the moving of the Holy Spirit, as even Peter had difficulty. But, if we are faithful, eventually we will recognize our Maker’s voice in every situation, and will follow Him wherever He leads.
Our joy in these readings should come from the last line of our Gospel. Previously, Jews and Gentiles lived separated lives, where Jews were fearful for the nationality, and Gentiles were deprived of the full revelation of God. Now, the voice of the Shepherd sounds throughout the world, and all are invited into the one safe pasture of Jesus, so that all “may have life, and have it in abundance.”