Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Easter
The image of Jesus as shepherd and his followers as sheep has endured over many centuries even for those who have never had the experience of watching a shepherd caring for sheep. The shepherd calls the sheep by name and they follow him because they recognize his voice. Some people may not like being compared to a sheep following blindly after its leader. But that is not the point of the story. The point of this story is God’s unending love and care for us just as a shepherd cares for each of his or her sheep.
The Gospel places this image of Jesus just after the cure of the blind man. The authorities did not like that healing, mainly because he did it on a Sabbath day, and they had been looking for a way to get rid of Jesus, who is a thorn in their sides. By sharing this image of himself as a caring, loving leader, Jesus pushes the thorn in a little deeper, insinuating that they are false shepherds who do not care about the people they are meant to serve but rather about their own power and prestige. That not only angers them but it threatens them and their status. It increases their desire to get rid of him.
What Jesus says to us through this image is this: “Ðo not be afraid. I will lead you to the true God with love and affection.” To use another image in John’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims that he is the light in our darkness illuminating the God who has created us in love, who gifts us and every living thing with life, energy and love. Judy Cannato, in her book “Radical Amazement,” expresses it in this way:
Through Jesus — the one who definitively tells us what God is like — we learn that the Holy One is more compassionate than we can imagine: accepting the unacceptable, loving the unlovable, inclusive in hospitality, healing all who want to be whole. We learn from Jesus that God is more about serving than being served, that the Holy One chooses vulnerability over might and continuously surrenders power in the attempt to set free. God is about forgiveness and healing, justice and mercy.
As a child I was told that God loved me, but I also was taught that God was almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, watching over me but also watching everything I did and writing it down somewhere for my judgment day. It was difficult to relate to a God like that as loving when those attributes put God up there, out there, far away and scary. I suspect that many of you had similar experiences growing up with the Baltimore Catechism. To this day I sometimes have to fight against that deep-down feeling that God probably doesn’t like what I am doing. We used to say, “God is going to get you for that.” I believed it, and it has taken many years to get over it.
We are not dumb sheep. We are smart sheep. As followers of Jesus we have learned to be shepherds ourselves with work to do. Judy Cannato writes, “The reign of God requires that those who believe in Jesus also believe in his affirmation that we too, are the light of the world. We too are called to become light, partaking of the divine nature in concrete and tangible ways.” And so on this lovely Sunday morning, on the last day of April 2023, we gather around our Shepherd singing, “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears from death into life.”