4th Sunday Of Easter
Cycle B | 22/04/18
Acts 4: 8-12
1 John 3: 1-2
John 10: 11-18
INTRODUCTION: Today on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear a sermon in Acts given by Peter, the Chief of the Apostles, that seems contradictory to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John. We hear St. Peter in the first reading say: “There is no salvation through anyone else nor is there any other name under heavens given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in the Gospel says: “And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold and these I have to lead as well.”(John 10:16) How do we understand this seemingly contradictory statements?
(1) The most objectionable in the speech of Peter is its expressed exclusivism and judgementalism whereas Jesus in the Gospel of John clearly accepts the existence of other sheep within the fold of Jesus. So Peter says Jesus is the only way to salvation and there is no other name by which we can be saved. So no non-Christian can possibly be saved: no Jew, no Muslim, etc… No one is to be saved except those who believe in Jesus. How can one be so exclusive and judgmental towards other religion today? We have a problem here in trying to understand this very basic statement of Peter himself.
(2) Jesus is not one religious figure among many, not one more in a long line of religious philosophers, mystics, and seers. Rather he is the Incarnate Son of God, the one who speaks and acts in the very person of God. Therefore there is a qualitative difference between Jesus and any other religious founder or any other philosopher. If this makes Christianity better than the other religions, so be it, if that is how people think about it for such is the claim of Christianity.
Therefore, it is true that there is no other name by which we are saved. What does this mean? The fullness of salvation that God wants to offer to his people is available through him alone. That is the heart of the matter. If that is not true, then he is just one among many. That is contemporary relativism but not biblical and not Christianity also. There is something absolutely at stake when it comes to Jesus and he does indeed compel a decision. That is the Gospel. The New Testament is incompatible with relativism or religious indifferentism. Salvation as God intends it is offered in Jesus and to him alone.
(3) We have to bring in some nuance to this claim to avoid Christian Triumphalism. For this to happen, do not think in terms of simple either or, of simple right or wrong but rather in terms of fulness and participation. The fullness of which God wants to have is a sharing in his own Trinitarian Life that we enter into relationship between the Father and the Son and that is what spiritual life is all about is an offer in Christianity alone.
It does not mean that elements, features of that fullness are not offered in other religions and other philosophies. That is why Vatican II speaks of “rays of light” that are available in all the great religions. It does not mean that we get it right and the rest are all wrong. No, there are elements of truth in other religions.
Vatican II even goes so far that a non-believer who follows his conscience and good will can be saved. John Henry Newman can help us on this point because he calls conscience as the aboriginal vicar of Christ in the soul. Whatever elements of truth in other religions are indeed participation in the fullness found in Christianity. Therefore, Peter’s statement remains valid but not in the exclusivist sense.
We must affirm Christian distinctiveness and completeness without falling into imperialism or violence; on the other hand, we must affirm the truth in other religions without falling into relativism and religious indifferentism. This is a little tricky thing to maneuver. The easy options are on the table and many take them but neither of these respect the complexities that Catholic Tradition holds.
CONCLUSION: Allow Peter’s Speech to bother you a little. It does go against some of our prejudices. Never use St. Peter to attack or belittle or exclude other religions. The Good Shepherd himself includes those in other religions in his sheepfold.
Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches