Monday, 9 May 2011

4th Sunday of Easter - Year A

Acts 2:14.36-41; 1Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10

You will recall, perhaps, that in the first reading last week St Peter got up at Pentecost to preach to the crowds which assembled at the commotion caused by the coming of the Holy Spirit. This week we go to the end of that mighty sermon of St Peter and we get to see the response of the listeners.

But first, I think it is important to underline something about the quality and tone of St Peter’s words to the crowd. It would be a pity to overlook these.

Do you notice that St Peter speaks in a very confidently assertive or declarative way? As a friend of mine commented, ‘There are no subjunctives.’ In other words there are no ‘mights’ or ‘maybes’.

Good ‘ol Wikipedia tells us that in grammar, the subjunctive mood is a verb mood typically used … to express a wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred.

Peter declares ‘with a loud voice’: …the whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. There is absolutely nothing subjunctive about that!

Compare this to modern ‘feeling-sensitive’ language whose main aim is to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings (i.e. making them feel uncomfortable) rather than actually telling the truth.

St Peter didn’t get up and say ‘I guess that, in a way, you people might have, perhaps, treated Jesus with, maybe, a little greater kindness.’ No way! Peter says: this Jesus, whom you crucified… .

Go through every word Peter says and there is no hesitant, equivocating, politically correct ambiguity anywhere to be found: …the whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.'

And why do you think Peter speaks like this? What is the point in expressing the truth of things in this stark and absolute way? Why couldn’t he have said ‘this Jesus, who was crucified’ or ‘this Jesus whom they crucified’ or ‘this Jesus whom evil men crucified’? Surely there were lots of ways of saying it so his listeners would not be put off. Today we ‘pad out’ our preaching with attractive little phrases that soften the truth so no one is uncomfortable, no one is ‘convicted’. And so, as one priest said, we ‘contracept’ our own preaching, making sure it can’t bear fruit.

There are two main reason for Peter’s rigorous statement of the truth. The first is that only when the guilt has been laid at the feet of the guilty, is repentance and forgiveness possible.

The second is that by expressing the crime, the sin, their guilt in its fullest dimensions is Peter able to show that the loving mercy of God will cover even that. Only by making clear the enormity of the sin is Peter able to demonstrate the even greater enormity of the mercy of God.

All this is a great, practical lesson for those who enter the confessional to confess their sins. If they minimise and obscure the seriousness of their guilt by using ambiguous or ‘subjunctive’ language with the priest they will inevitably deprive themselves of that joyful realisation of total forgiveness. Whether they understand it or not, there will always be lurking that ‘remainder’ of guilt which they refused to acknowledge and which now lingers vaguely in their consciousness.

The crowd responds with the same fullness with which Peter delivered his message; they were ‘cut to the heart’. Peter’s razor sharp words have caused them to see themselves in a new light; they have seen the truth about themselves; they have seen themselves before God as they really are – and isn’t this the entire purpose of the Gospel?

‘What must we do, brothers?’ they ask.

‘You must repent … and every one of you must be baptised …’ replies Peter.

Peter is not making a suggestion, he is not giving his opinion, he is not offering an invitation. Peter is declaring in the clearest way possible what everyone (from every nation under heaven) who wishes to reach salvation must do. In return they will receive forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Peter called his generation ‘perverse’. Strong language but accurate, and equally, if not more so, descriptive of our own. We must cease blindly resisting the thought that all is well in our lives and that all is well in the world. If the violence, confusion and evil in the world is nothing more than an expression of what is in the human heart then we need to seriously face the truth of our own need to repent.

May we be like those who listened to Peter. They ‘accepted what he said … And that very day about three thousand were added to their number.’

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