I recently was honored (and humbled) to
participate in a lay congress in Texas.
Among other things, I quickly discovered that
my fellow-participants shared a belief about our country's plan to build a
wall on its Mexican border that differed from the opinion many of us
"Northerners" have on the subject.
I returned home not only with a suitcase packed
with "No Border Wall!" bumper stickers, but also with a new way of
looking at the issue.
Those deeply committed Christians reminded me
that, as "other Christs," we're not just Americans concerned with
guarding the frontiers of our country and culture from "foreign
invaders;" before anything else, we're children of God, concerned with
helping other children of God live up to their potential.
Their Christian frame of mind on this matter
helped alter my own frame of mind.
I especially recall that experience when I hear
the exchange between Peter and his Pentecost audience in Sunday's first
reading (Acts 2:14,36-41): "When they had heard this [speech], they
were cut to the heart. They asked Peter and the other Apostles, 'What are we
to do, my brothers?' Peter said, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will
receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"
As in Jesus' first public pronouncement in Mark
and Matthew, the key word of this exchange is "repent." In this
context, it means much more than just the "be sorry for your sins"
aspect of confession most of us learned in second grade.
When Jesus and His disciples employ the term,
they're talking about a complete change of someone's value system: a
180-degree turn in the way we look at everyone and every circumstance in our
I correctly learned as a child that all sins
committed before Baptism are forgiven in Baptism. But, at the age I learned
this, I wasn't yet mature enough to understand the biblical reason for that
It wasn't just that our sins were washed away
in the sacramental waters; it was that the person being baptized was no
longer the person who had committed the sins.
The sinner was dead. He or she had experienced
a "metanoia": They had replaced their value system with Jesus'
value system. No longer did they just have faith in Jesus; they now shared
the faith of Jesus.
John's Jesus speaks about the same concept in
poetic language in the Gospel (John 10:1-10): "The sheep hear his voice
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out....He walks
ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They
will not follow a stranger; they will run a way from him because they do not
recognize the voice of a stranger."
We know Jesus' voice because we've made Jesus'
ministry our ministry.
The author of the second reading (I Peter
2:20-25) employs a somewhat different metaphor, but the teaching is the
same: "For you have been called [to do good] because Christ also
suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His
footsteps....For you had gone astray, like sheep, but you have now returned
to the shepherd and the guardian of your souls."
Our entire life of faith revolves around
listening for Jesus' voice calling us the midst of life's other voices; it
is the voice inviting us to walk behind Him down a road few travel.
It's a road only those who have experienced
repentance dare travel. In some sense, we're called to become different
people every day of our lives, to hear aspects of Jesus' call today we never