Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 42; John 10:1-10
A religion of sheep led by a lamb - it doesn't sound like a promising project in a macho world that is more often than not cruel, cynical and violent. And so it proved as we read about the difficulties faced by the first Christian believers, their rejection and expulsion from the synagogues, the sporadic violence against them and then their outright persecution.
In spite of all that the Christian faith took root and flourished. It flourished geographically: we have been reading the Acts of the Apostles which traces this geographical spread of the faith from Jerusalem, through Samaria, on through Asia Minor, into Europe, and eventually to Rome, centre of the world at the time. It seems that the first Christian communities would have been quite small but still it is impressive that so many of them were founded in the first decades after the Resurrection of the Lord.
So it was not through conquest or imposition by civil authorities that the faith spread. It was not any secular, still less military, arm supporting the preaching. (We might think of the conquest of the Americas as an example of the latter.) Au contraire, we might say, for this religion of sheep led by a lamb.
So what was its power? Can it be explained only by the fact that this project was God's project and that God's purpose is not to be frustrated? It might also - on a human level - be explained by what this new religion offered: salvation from sin, freedom from oppression, victory over death. It is about life, a fulness of life, and that fulness of life in eternity: eternal life.
The shepherd of Israel who calls his own sheep by name and leads them out has been revealed as the shepherd of all humanity. The springs of living water opened up in the heart of the world are flowing for all people. The happiness and fulfillment and flourishing that they promised is offered freely to everybody. The election or preference of the Hebrews is extended to the Gentiles. The proferred gift of eternal life is for all.
This is what attracted people to the new faith. It is what explains how in spite of everything they were enduring the apostles were always filled with joy.