Our first reading today is one of my favorite stories in the Scriptures. We have Peter explaining to his fellow Christians why he was with “the uncircumcised” and “ate with them.” Peter tells the whole story beginning with the vision he had in a dream, and the call to visit someone’s house (he doesn’t mention Cornelius’ name), and seeing the Holy Spirit descend on the household. He ends the story with “Who was I to be able to hinder God?”
In our Gospel reading Jesus uses the image of a shepherd and a gate for the sheep. In this way He is trying to express to the people who He is for them. He is trying to express His love for us. And at the end of our passage, He says, “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
I would connect the two readings with a question: Can we understand the “they” to which Jesus refers to not only mean “us” but “them” as well, no matter who we might consider as “them?” I found it interesting to note how the ones in Jerusalem referred to Cornelius and his household: “You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.” They probably though they were being polite.
Labeling others is still with us today. But if we can take Peter’s experience to heart, perhaps we can let go of our prejudices and stop any attempts, conscious or otherwise, to “hinder God.” Instead, may God use us as he did Peter, and may we testify to the love of our Good Shepherd.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.