“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved”.
Why Abel and not Cain? Why Abraham and not Lot? Why Jacob and not Esau? Why David and not Saul? Why Israel and not the Egyptians?
Why Jesus Christ and not someone else?
Today’s first scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled Acts of the Apostles, presents what the great scholars of the Bible call “the scandal of particularity”, which means, the mysterious manner in which God chooses to act in the world.
Remember, our faith in God is not that he is a distant, cosmic force, who exists only in a relationship of indifference to his creation. Nor do we profess in faith that God is merely an idea or feeling, nothing more than a projection of our dream of our best self. Instead, God is a living, divine person who reveals himself and acts in relation to his creation.
This God acts in particular ways in the world. He makes decisions, choices and through these decisions he has an impact on his creation, changes people’s lives, and reveals his will and his purposes.
The particularities of God’s decisions are mysterious, representing the unfolding of a plan that he has in mind that is uncanny according our perspective and at times very difficult for us to understand. God’s actions provoke questions and evoke wonder. At times, his decisions seem scandalous to us.
The most mysterious and most impactful of God’s decisions is his decision to accept for himself a human nature and to experience for himself a real, human life. This decision alters history- it changes everything. Those who met Jesus Christ were meeting God and those who encounter Christ today through his Church are encountering God.
Thus St. Peter’s off-putting claim today about the Lord Jesus- “there is no salvation through anyone else or no other name given to the human race by which we are to be saved”. Why does he make this revolutionary claim? Because he knows who the Lord Jesus really and truly is- not merely a philosopher or guru, but God himself.
It is in the particularity of the Lord Jesus that God reveals himself, and that revelation in Christ presents how God wants us to encounter him, understand him, and worship him.
All that God wants us to know about himself is given to us in Christ.
That’s God’s decision. That’s the mysterious way God acts in the world. He could have opted for another way, but he didn’t. A Christian is someone who has accepted God’s decision about revealing himself in Jesus Christ. For some, God’s decision to reveal himself in Christ is a scandal, and as such they refuse the revelation.
But their refusal doesn’t alter God’s decision- it doesn’t change his mind or the way that God chooses to act in the world.
Why did God make this extraordinary decision to reveal himself in Christ?
Our second reading for today gestures towards an answer to this question.
God did it so that we could be in relationship with him.
Look at it this way: Ideas and feelings about God are very important, but ideas and feelings about God ultimately prove to be insufficient because you can’t really live in a relationship with an idea or a feeling. One can only have a relationship with a person. God is a person, and he chooses in Christ to give us a way of being in a relationship with him. Thus, in Christ, he makes himself known to us in a manner that we can have a relationship with him. That’s why, in Christ, God becomes man- this is the reason that, in Christ, God accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life.
Once God does this in Christ, we can have a relationship with him because God shares with us a common set of human experiences- even the experiences of suffering and death.
But he also links his own divine nature to our human nature in such a way that gives us a new kind of identity. The scriptures identify this identity as us being God’s children, members of God’s own family. God looks at the humanity of Christ and looks at our humanity and sees a relationship between ourselves and him. He is part of us and we are in Christ, part of him. One of the great prayers of the Church expresses this relationship beautifully when it asserts that God “sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ”.
Those who know God’s revelation in Christ will experience God, think and feel about God, in ways that are different than those who do not know Christ or those, who knowing Christ, have refused a relationship with him.
Being in relationship with God in Christ makes you different, it changes you, transforms you. Christians should be seek to grow comfortable with the ways in which Christ makes them different and see these differences as a great gift for the world.
God in Christ did not reveal himself and offer us a relationship with him so as to affirm us as we are, but to make us different, and through this difference, change the world for the better.
The Christian difference is most radiantly apparent and clear in the lives of those Christians that the Church calls saints. Saints are those people that really and truly change the world- for the world is not changed when it looks more and more like what we think it should look like. The world is changed when it looks more and more like what the saints think it should look like.
We live in a culture that is getting this all wrong. We think that politicians, financiers and celebrities are changing the world through their desires and ideologies. But nothing really changes this way.
God has determined through Christ that it will be his saints that change his world. You want the world to change, be a saint. The more saints, there are the more the world will change for the better.
The people God chooses to be his saints often surprise us and they are at times not the kind of people that we expect. The fact of the matter is that if you have been baptized, God has chosen you to be his saint, and your life will be measured and judged in relation to your willingness or unwillingness to accept God’s decision.
You might be thinking that in terms of being a saint that you could never be worthy, but here’s the thing about that- being a saint is not about whether or not you are worthy, but whether or not you are willing. And most of us are just unwilling and as such, we have to live in a world that needs saints who never seem to arrive. Those saints that never seem to arrive are supposed to be us.
Finally, the Lord Jesus presents himself in his Gospel as our shepherd.
In order to understand this Gospel, we have to give up our romanticized notions about shepherds that are created in our imaginations by people who have no direct experience of either shepherds or sheep.
And also, we have to immerse ourselves in a biblical vision in which it is God who promises that he will make himself the shepherd of his people.
Shepherds in the ancient world were tough guys who accepted a difficult life on the margins of the culture so as to protect the assets that were essential to the survival of the community. Sheep were not pets, they provided food, clothing, and perhaps most importantly, animals for sacrifice, thus their existence insured that, not only would the community survive, but also that the community could have a relationship with God.
Without the sheep the community perished. The sheep needed shepherds to survive. Without good shepherds, by which is not meant gentle, meek and mild men, but men of duty, action, strength and self-sacrifice, the sheep would perish and the community would die.
Those who were shepherds lived a tough life that made them tough and kept them for the most part as outsiders, but they accepted this role for the sake of a greater good.
Think about a shepherd in the way I have just described and you can better understand the Lord Jesus and what he means when he calls himself our good shepherd.
But also think carefully about what it really means to be a shepherd and the surprising fact that being a shepherd is what God chooses for himself. God makes himself our shepherd in Christ. God in Christ chooses for himself what is difficult and tough, he exposes himself to risk, makes himself vulnerable, takes his place on the margins, goes out from where it is safe and comfortable, sacrifices himself so that the sheep might live and gives up his own life so that the people might have life (and not only life but divine life!!!) and it is God in Christ who does all this for our sake.
He doesn’t have to do any of this and let’s be honest, we hardly deserve his gesture, but he does all this for our sake, and thus proves himself to be our good shepherd.
This is what God is showing us about who he is in his decision to reveal himself in Jesus Christ.
That’s what God’s decision to reveal himself to us in Jesus Christ is all about.
And that’s why we can say with confidence, as St. Peter did, “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is that any other name under heaven, given to the human race by which we are to be saved”.
We can make this bold, even scandalous claims because that’s the kind of thing you can only say about a God who, in the revelation of Jesus Christ, has proved himself to be our good shepherd.