In the time of Jesus, when multiple flocks of sheep would be gathered, protecting the flock depended heavily on the shepherd’s personal recognition of individual sheep, by sight and sound. In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses this imagery to speak of how Jesus — with the Father — protects those whom God loves —that is, everyone. Forces that pull us away from God are ultimately no match for the fierce love that God has for us.
Our favor with God does not depend on our behaving properly, or gaining theological knowledge, or holding precise beliefs. Our stance with God is primarily about God’s insistence that we belong to God, and to no other. Belonging to God, we know that however much we mess up, we are not lost. Belonging to God eventually draws us into a life of care for each other. Belonging to God, we can safely grow into a fuller belonging.
Today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles is one of several turning points in the self-understanding of the early Church. Paul evokes the image of “A light to the Gentiles.” Some thought that Gentiles, non-Jews, were somehow marginal in God’s eyes. The Gentiles in Paul’s audience rejoice, because they now see that they are not “second class” members of God’s family, but fully part of God’s beloved people. The story continues by noting the resistance from those who enjoy “first class” status in the community, as inclusion of the Gentiles was perceived as a threat to their self-image and privilege.
The book of Acts continues to challenge today’s societies, churches, and organizations. Luke’s vision of God’s family, united as equal heirs to the Kingdom of God, confronts our many barriers of wealth, race, gender, and much more. We are invited to give witness to this vision in our life together as the Church.
Our reading from the Book of Revelation presents the image of God's people before God's throne, wearing robes that are washed white in the blood of the Lamb. A robe, especially when worn in God’s presence, is meant to express the real truth about the person. A white robe indicates their purity. The washing in the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) suggests that the people have met much suffering and, in some manner, have participated in the suffering of Jesus.
These passages were written to a people experiencing great tribulations in living their faith. But the author of Revelation does not suggest that anyone should seek out suffering for its own sake. He does not make suffering somehow a necessary entry pass for salvation. Our sufferings come from many sources, and suffering is a profound mystery. The image of washing in blood suggests that God is present within our suffering. God accompanies our suffering, leads us toward refreshment, and will wipe every tear from our eyes.BACK TO LIST