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The Love of Christ and the Unity of the Church

by Brant Pitre July 22, 2021 0 Comments

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Dr. Brant Pitre discusses Peter and John's encounter with the Sanhedrin. Peter proclaims Jesus to be the "cornerstone" and that "there is salvation in no one else." This was taken from the Mass Readings Explained. Subscribers can find the full video here:


Another aspect of this text which is really important to emphasize is Jesus’ image of the unity of the church, right. I don’t know about you but from my experience growing up as a Catholic in the United States, from my youngest days I always was aware of the existence of many different Christian denominations, or many different Christian churches; we’ll freely use that plural term there. And there are really thousands of them in our day and time. And, that's just part of our lived experience if you’re a Christian growing up in the wake of the Protestant Reformation that took place in the 16th century and which has led to the proliferation of many, many different forms and denominations of Christian churches, or ecclesial communities. So we’re just used to the fact that there are many churches, but notice that's not Jesus' vision here when he's describing himself as the good shepherd. He's not just revealing his own identity as the true king, or the true priest who’s going to care for his flock, he’s also telling us something about the nature of the church, he’s showing us that his church is supposed to be one. It's supposed to be a united church, and just as there is only one Messiah, and there's only one king, and there’s only one high priest, Christ himself, so too there’s only supposed to be one flock, there’s only supposed to be one fold. There’s going to be one church, one body of his disciples who are ideally supposed to be as united with one another as he is with the Father. We’re going to see that a little bit later when we look at his high priestly prayer in John 17.

So this theme of the unity of Christ’s disciples is a major theme in John's gospel in particular. John highlights the fact that our Lord not only envisioned a unified church but, as we’ll see in John 17, that’s going to be one of the last things he prays for before he lays down his life in his passion and in his death. So I just bring this up because as a Catholic this is one of the marks of the church that we profess in the Creed, right. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Well where do we get the idea of one church from? Isn't that some kind of, you know, pipe dream? Isn’t that unrealistic? No, that element, that aspect of the Creed is one of the marks of the authentic church. And, it goes back to the will of Christ himself, and it goes back to the teaching of Christ himself, in Jerusalem as he’s standing before the Jewish leaders and he’s telling them look, I’m the true shepherd and there’s going to be one flock. The Gentiles are going to come in and we’re all going to be united in this one flock, or as he calls it Matthew's gospel his ecclesia, his church, the gathering of his people.

The final aspect of Jesus’ teaching in the good shepherd discourse, and we really only looked at half of it in this particular Sunday, the church breaks it up over the course of several years, is on the freedom with which Christ goes to the cross. This is a very important thing. Jesus freely lays down his life on Calvary. He says this in verse 18, “no one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord.” I think this is really important to stress because in contemporary times we sometimes, in our emphasis on the humanity of Christ, can easily forget the divinity of Christ, the sovereignty of Christ, and the fact that he was in complete control of everything that was happening at every moment of his passion, okay. That his passion wasn't a kind of tragic accident, right. Jesus didn’t, you know, unexpectedly get caught in the Roman dragnet and be brought to the cross in order to be crucified. Although some modern scholars have depicted the crucifixion that way, as a kind of you know, unfortunate tragedy. No, Christ freely chooses to lay down his life. He's going to tell Pilot later in the gospel, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above,” right. Which means that his passion and his death is part of the plan of God's divine providence, by which he would save the world, and that it's something freely chosen.

And, that's really crucial for us to emphasize. Because it shows us that what makes the death of Christ meritorious, what makes it so precious in the eyes of the Father, is not just how much Christ suffered. I mean that suffering reveals the love to us, but it's how much he loved in freely choosing to lay his life down. That he could have at any moment, as he says in the Gospel of Matthew, called down a legion or 12 legions of angels. Which by the way, is I think about 6000 angels per legion, so you’re talking about a lot of angels, I won’t try to do the math, because I’ll get it wrong, but that's a lot of angels. In other words, Jesus could have easily stopped the passion at any moment during his scourging at the pillar, or his trial, or his mockery, all that stuff is something he freely chooses. And, by uniting it to his free will, he makes it all an act of love, right. And it's that love that redeems us, it's that love that covers a multitude of sins, as Peter says. And it's that love that reveals to us that he really is the good shepherd, who doesn't just want to protect his sheep, right, he doesn't just want us to flourish, he's willing to lay down his life for our sake so that we might live and have life abundantly.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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