“Jesus Christ…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.”  How comfortable are we saying that in class, at work, among our friends, or even at the dinner table at home?  Would we share that as a tweet or a post on social media, or would we wear that on a shirt and have it as a bumper sticker for our car?  How receptive are we even hearing that here – we who are here at Mass regularly, this fourth Sunday of Easter?

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – April 21, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

It sounds so severe.  “Jesus Christ…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.”  There might be this knee-jerk reaction that this must come from some religious extremist, like a caricature we might have in our minds of a televangelist screaming that to dramatic effect in front of a loud and boisterous crowd.  Actually, that’s from the first reading we heard today, which is the Acts of the Apostles said by none other than St. Peter.

But that tension we felt or feel, that embarrassment over those types of caricatures that we have in our head saying those words, that assumption that we can’t say them ourselves because people will label us as intolerant or worse, hateful, closed-minded, bigoted –  is important to recognize.  Because there have been times, and there are some who, to this day, use scriptures like this to be and do those exact things – being intolerant and doing hateful things – all under the appearance of being devout followers of Jesus Christ.

This has left many looking for ways to de-emphasize sentiments that seem so exclusive and promote a variation of “We’re all on different paths to the same destination.”  Where the emphasis is all about trying to find things in common, so, for example, in Jewish-Catholic relations, reflecting on the majority of our bible is the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Dialogues between Catholics and Protestants emphasize how we share baptism into Jesus Christ.  Some years ago, students shared how in one of their religion courses, they were given a sheet of quotes, and they were to try to determine whether they were from the Old or New Testament, the Book of Mormon, or the Quaran, and how difficult they found that exercise because all of the quotes sounded so similar.  All of these things support the idea that there are universals among different religions.

For sure, there’s value to these types of exercises.  Hopefully, it will encourage respect among people of different beliefs, appeal to the higher moral virtues that are advanced by these other traditions, and try to make that an area of agreement and meeting for people.  We might have significant disagreements on who Mohammed and Jesus are – but we can agree that virtues like justice, courage, being truthful, and honesty are essential for people to have peaceful co-existence and appeal to those things that can be found in all these different traditions.

But – and it’s a big and vital BUT – we as Catholic Christians can’t compromise on these words of St. Peter, the first Pope, boldly captured in his testimony as he’s on trial in the Acts of the Apostles  “Jesus Christ…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.”   We shouldn’t want to water that down or explain that away.  If anything, we should be desiring to be that bold and convicted.  A little over a month ago, we were reflecting on how heavily Peter’s failure, his denial of Jesus, weighed on him.  That the Gospel writers are in agreement that, as Jesus had predicted at the Last Supper, despite Peter’s claims of being willing to die for Jesus, within hours, Peter would deny even knowing him.  But Peter’s recounting of that failure through the words of St. Mark demonstrates how much that tormented him long after that fateful night.  The specific details “before the cock crows two times, three times you will deny me” – and how he recounts the first denial, hearing the first crow and the second and third ones followed by the second crow.  We can hear that even after Peter’s been forgiven and reconciled with Jesus after His resurrection, there was a tenderness in Peter’s mind and heart, a lingering pain and shame, which is understandable.

Yet, as we hear in today’s scripture – Peter’s not embarrassed in isolation because of that experience.  He’s not worried that someone will see him publicly witnessing and testifying to being a follower of Jesus Christ and being called a hypocrite or worse.  He’ll be the first to tell you that you’re right; he was and maybe in some ways still is.  He finally got it.  Jesus didn’t want Peter to be something he wasn’t.  Jesus wasn’t looking for the brave and courageous Peter, who was ready to battle with the guards (and cut off one of their ears) in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus wanted Peter to follow Him… to follow His teaching… to follow His commands… to follow His example…

In doing that, Peter’s ambitious and misguided visions of a military Messiah conquering the Romans, re-unifying the divided Jewish factions, and establishing a worldly kingdom that would be invincible to any other human enterprise – all of that vanished.  And instead, he met the God who revealed himself as a “good shepherd” – and then obliterated the definition of what that means.  Think about it: a “good shepherd” would not lay down his lifefor an animal.  They’d care for them, they’d look out for them, they’d recognize the sheep’s limitations and weaknesses – they’re a little dumb, they’re a little stubborn – but a good shepherd is one who patiently deals with them despite those things.  But lay down his life for them?  Accidently or while protecting them from an attack, maybe – but no one would think less of a shepherd who didn’t lay down his life for a sheep.

That’s what’s meant to catch our attention.  Jesus is even more than just a Good Shepherd – and Peter is more than just a sheep.  The Almighty God knows Peter this intimately and personally, as the Father knows The Son… and yes, after Jesus laid down His life for the sheep, He came back to life again.  And yes, indeed, that made all the difference in the world for Peter, but not just for Peter – but for the life and the salvation of all the world throughout the History of the World.

Because Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who’s more than just a Good Shepherd – looks at us as more than just sheep… Jesus knows you and me as intimately and personally as He knows Peter – as Intimately and personally as the Father knows the Son.   And that has to make all the difference in the world for us, too.  Not in some arrogant way where we go out to bully people who don’t believe what we believe, not in some condescending manner where we look to diminish people who believe other things.  But also not denying the truth of who Jesus is – and who He says we are.  Knowing our success isn’t determined by how many people we can convert.   As Mother Teresa once said, God’s not asking us to succeed in everything but that we remain be faithful.   On the surface of things, at the end of his life, Peter might have thought he was a failure.  He will end up being sentenced to death himself.  When he objected to being executed the same way Jesus was, the Romans said “okay”.  They decided to crucify him upside down, which was even more torturous and painful.  Poor Peter, I wonder if that irony hit him that even in his last act on this earth, he found a way to open his mouth without thinking…  As Peter’s dying, had he been fixated on whatever his initial hopes, desires, expectations were when he had first followed Jesus, he would’ve surmised he was a failure.

But he knew his death on the cross wasn’t the end because Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t the end.  And Peter knew whether the first people who heard him proclaim those words ever believed them wasn’t as important as him knowing them and bearing witness to them – that 20 centuries later, they’re given to us – “Jesus Christ…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.”

Are we ready to let these powerful words penetrate our minds and hearts? Will we open ourselves up to this message and allow ourselves to be moved towards greater conviction?