Peace Spirituality

Finding the spirit of the still strange, risen Lord

by David McLoughlin
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 9:26-31 | 1 John 3:18-24 | John 15:1-8

Today Saul enters the picture and with him violence. The Jerusalem community are scared of him.  His recent Damascus conversion does nothing to allay their fears.  We get a more accurate insight into the internal fragility of the early community; not yet fully confidant in the abiding spirit of their, still strange, risen Lord.  Saul arrives and the kindly Barnabas mediates on his behalf.  He tells of the vision of the risen Jesus and Saul’s remarkable recent attempt at preaching Jesus, as Messiah, in Damascus.  They are wary.

Paul is young and confident with a detailed knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures which he can quote, at will, from memory.  At ease in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek he is able to argue with all-comers.  Immediately he starts wandering the city, preaching in the name of Jesus, as though he were an Apostle.  They can’t cope with him.  To make matters worse he upsets the Greek-speaking Jewish disciples, with whom he should have had more in common.  The uneasy balance of the community disintegrates as the Greeks plan to kill him. There is a disturbing upsurge of violence here that shows just how hard-won would be the more contemplative account in John’s gospel of all as members of Christ, the one vine.

They hustle Saul to the coast and put him on a boat to Tarsus, back to the family tent-making business, nearly a thousand miles away. We hear no more of him for ten years. But in those years the full significance of the Risen Lord’s ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ will become clear. Saul, as Paul, will return with his teaching of the Church, as the body of Christ, in which each one of us can find a welcoming home, and a unique role, despite our past.

David McLoughlin is a member of our Nonviolence Working Group and is senior Lecturer in Theology, Newman University, Birmingham. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Peace Spirituality

The good shepherd, the leader who provides, ‘life to the full’

by John Williams
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 4:8-12 | 1 John 3:1-2 | John 10:11-18

The most striking feature of the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday is the commonality of the First Reading and the Gospel in three respects. Firstly, the location, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Secondly, the audience, the religious leaders.  Thirdly, the event preceding the discourse, a healing.

The allegory of the ‘Good Shepherd’ should not be read in isolation from the Old Testament references to the shepherds of Israel, who were the political and religious leaders that the prophets denounced.  Ezekiel 34 especially, depicts the deplorable leadership of shepherds who broke the commandments; who killed, stole and lied, causing violence and suffering for many:

  • shepherds who fed themselves instead of their flock
  • shepherds who failed to care for the weak and the sick
  • shepherds who ruled with cruelty and violence.

We cannot be blind to our present political leaders who are culpable in the same way as Ezekiel describes, when:

  • they engage in the self-interest of the arms trade
  • they fail to use human and financial resources for the well and the sick
  • they align themselves with foreign governments that inflict war and suffering on their own people and their neighbours.

However, Ezekiel goes on to describe the day when God will become the shepherd leader, ‘I, myself will shepherd my people …’ and ‘I shall make a covenant of peace with them …’ This is akin to the Psalmist when he says; ‘The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.’  Today, in the Gospel, Jesus declares that he himself is that shepherd, ‘I am the good shepherd.’

This good shepherd is the leader who provides, ‘life to the full’. This fullness of life is illustrated in the preceding healing, of the blind man in the Gospel and the lame man in the First Reading.  Let us pray today for our political and religious leaders, that their decision-making will bring life, not death.

John Williams is a Trustee of the Christian Peace Education Fund and former Secondary Schools Adviser for Westminster Diocese. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here.