Life in the Spirit
They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
The testimony to Jesus’ resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit had a strong and tangible effect upon the earliest followers of Jesus, and everyone who joined them, in living a life in the Spirit. They were deeply devoted to the teaching handed down by the Apostles (at first oral traditions that became the Gospels and the NT Letters) and came together regularly to break bread and pray. They believed with all their heart that Jesus was in their midst.
Out of respect for Jesus, they refused to give way to the rivalry and negative behaviors present in the society around them. They were different. They expressed thankfulness for everything and exuded a simple, yet profound, joy.
It wasn’t always easy to live in the Spirit. Life in the world tempted them away from the spirit of Jesus’ love and self-sacrifice with rivalries, jealousy, blaming, finger pointing, and scapegoating. They were surrounded at all times by a sacrificial system that created scarcity and discord. In Baptism they had chosen the abundant life that Jesus had promised when he said: I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance.
The First Letter of Peter brings up the problem of suffering, especially suffering unjustly, for Jesus’ community. When they had to endure pain or were beaten for their beliefs they were to be patient in suffering as Jesus was. A community of the Holy Spirit is tested from within and without. Today, we look down upon passive non-violence, “just take it,” when we are wronged. Are we required to just to take abuse and not respond? Today we prefer non-violent resistance. However these two approaches pan out, the key to any approach to right wrongs is non-violence. As followers, we must mirror Jesus himself in this regard. We suffer patientlyand don’t strike back. Eventually the violent and the troublemakers will destroy themselves.
We can do all this because we are sheep of the Good Shepherd and Jesus knows each of us intimately. We are his sheep. Not in the sense of blindly following (people think sheep are dumb), but in a sacrificial aspect. Background for today’s Gospel is Ezekiel chapter 34. The Kings of Israel were false shepherds. They fed themselves and could care less about the needs of their people. The more proximate context is the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. The shepherds would bring their flocks to the gate where they would drop off their flock, get paid, and the sheep would be led to the slaughter. They were hired hands. Jesus calls himself the ‘Good” Shepherd because he went through the Gate with the sheep and was slaughtered with and for his sheep. He gave his life for the sheep. That’s us. We don’t follow Jesus blindly or dumbly, but with eyes wide open we know that following him will lead to our demise one day, but Jesus will always be with us. Furthermore, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin(violence) of the world.
The bandits and thieves are those revolutionaries who, fully living in the sacrificial system, point fingers at others, and just create more and more victims.
Hopefully we get the picture: Jesus the Good Shepherd brings people together. Jesus is the Gate that leads to abundant life for all people brought into life and who live in sincerely and love their neighbors. Muslims, Hindus, and others don’t have to become Christians. Jesus died for all. When I am lifted up I will draw all to myself.
Jesus death on the Cross, his Resurrection from the dead, and sending of the Spirit to his followers is meant to benefit all people of any race or nation. We who are baptized are called to minister the benefits of Jesus’ saving love to every human being. We are shepherds. To accomplish this down through time, God has called us to live a life in the Spirit in community where we are nourished by the Bread of Jesus’ continued Presence among us to be shepherds for those around us, laying down our lives for them, whenever necessary, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven down to earth.
(EMPHASIS ADDED LR)
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.