• Acts 4:8-12
• Psa 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
• 1 Jn 3:1-2
• Jn 10:11-18
In August 2000, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document titled “Dominus Iesus” on the “unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church”. Not surprisingly, it upset some non-Christians, who wrongly interpreted it as an act of arrogant triumphalism.
More surprising were the negative reactions from many Christians, even some Catholics. Then again, the document specifically addressed the teachings of theologians positing that Jesus is just one of many possible means of salvation, or that he only offers salvation to certain people. This position, the document said, “has no biblical foundation. In fact, the truth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord and only Saviour, who through the event of his incarnation, death and resurrection has brought the history of salvation to fulfilment, and which has in him its fullness and centre, must be firmly believed as a constant element of the Church’s faith” (par 13).
In presenting a wide range of biblical evidence, Cardinal Ratzinger referred twice to St. Peter’s sermon in Acts 4, today’s first reading. “In his discourse before the Sanhedrin, Peter, in order to justify the healing of a man who was crippled from birth, which was done in the name of Jesus (cf. Acts 3:1-8), proclaims: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).”
The conflict between Jewish religious authorities and the nascent Christian community had developed quickly. Yet it was a logical development since the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Messiah was the decisive point of contention. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ the Nazorean was always central to the preaching of Peter, Paul, and the other apostles. It is the name of Jesus—literally, in Hebrew, “God saves”—through which salvation is realized and offered to all men.
The uniqueness of Jesus is also evident in his Good Shepherd discourse (Jn 10). In the Old Testament, God is the depicted as the good shepherd (Psa 23); Moses (Ex 3:1) and David (2 Sam 5:2) were also described as shepherds of the people. Jesus the Good Shepherd is unique because of the depth of his sacrifice and the intimacy of his relationship with the Father.
In fact, the two are closely related: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” Key to that mission of sacrifice was obedience and humility. The Son, equal to the Father, accepted the Father’s call to become man, to dwell among us, and to suffer and die. His divine humility revealed the profound perfect love and complete trust radiating from the mystery of the Trinity.
This, in turn, points to the uniqueness of the Father’s love, not only for the Son but for us mortal men and women. “Beloved”, wrote St. John in his first epistle, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” By the sacrament of baptism, we are cleansed of original sin and filled with divine life, reborn as children of God and “partakers of the divine nature” (CCC 1692; 2 Pet 1:4). The Father’s greatest gift is his grace, “a participation in the life of God” that “introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life” (CCC 1997).
But that gift, coming as it does through the sacraments, is not a matter of just “me and Jesus”; it requires the Church, the mystical body of Christ, the soul of which is the Holy Spirit. Peter, in addressing the Jewish authorities, stood not as a solitary figure, but as the appointed head of the Church. St. John did not write his epistle to just anyone, but to the “beloved”, that is, the faithful united in Christ.
Jesus, speaking of his sheep, said “there will be one flock, one shepherd”. That shepherd, alone, provides salvation.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the April 29, 2012 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)