The time came for the feast of the Dedication. It was winter, and Jesus walked back and forth in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in doubt? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have already told you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name proclaim who I am, but you don’t believe because, as I said, you are not my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice and I know them; they follow me and I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, and no one will ever steal them from me. What my Father has given me, is greater than all things else. To snatch it out of the Father’s hand, no one is able! I and the Father are One.”
Childhood habits and beliefs die hard. Furthermore, we always tend to privilege the group we happen to belong to—to the point sometimes of rejecting completely all “outsiders.” This was the situation in the Catholic Church 60 or 70 years ago. A lot of Catholics were convinced that all non-Catholics were of bad faith and therefore could never be saved. Fortunately, then came Council Vatican II which declared that all persons sincerely following their conscience could be saved. However, to this day there are still conservative Catholics who view Protestants as more or less destined to Hell. Childhood habits and beliefs die hard…
This explains what we observe in the Book of Acts concerning the resistance of converted Jews to accept the idea that pagans, too, could become Christians. All their lives they had been told that everything in the Law of Moses was indispensable for salvation. And now they were seeing the Holy Spirit fall on pagans—to their utter bewilderment. It is interesting to notice in today’s first reading that the first Jews who were open to receiving pagans into the church were “natives of Cyprus and Cyrene.” Because these had grown up outside Palestine, they knew that a lot of non-Jews were worthy of becoming Christians.
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