Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14, 36-41 Psalm 23 (24) 1 Peter 2:20-25 John 10:1-10
Last Sunday we had the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and how they recognized Jesus in a stranger who broke bread with them.
Today’s readings are again about recognizing Jesus in our midst, in the word, in our difficulties and in one another.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, in the name of the disciples gives testimony to the Jewish world, to the whole house of Israel, that Jesus is the Messiah. Those who accepted this message were baptized — about 3,000 in one day were cut to the heart and recognized Jesus in Peter’s words.
The second reading is again from Peter, this time he is writing to the baptized Jews, teaching them where to look for Jesus. First he says that grace will let them recognize Jesus in the painful events of their lives, for in suffering they will be walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Like sheep led by the shepherd, grace will lead them in Jesus’ way, trusting and patient, surrendering to his example: When you are insulted, don’t answer in kind; when you are hurt, don’t strike back; when suffering disturbs your life, yield as Jesus did. Walking in his way, you will recognize him in the healing power of God.
The passage from John’s Gospel repeats the theme of sheep and shepherd. This is not the story of the Good Shepherd — that comes after the passage we have just heard. This morning’s selection offers a different angle on how we can recognize Jesus in our lives. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees who have just criticized him for healing a man born blind. He tells a story about a common feature of rural life, the large stone-walled pen in which at night all the animals in the village are kept safe from thieves and marauding animals. Shepherds come each morning to claim their particular sheep, entering the pen by the gate, not surreptitiously over the wall like a thief. The gatekeeper, who knows the shepherds, opens the gate to them. The sheep recognize their own shepherd by his voice and willingly follow him, and none other, in and out of the gate.
When the Pharisees defensively asked what the parable had to do with them, Jesus retells the story, giving it a surprising twist. Of the several roles in the parable — thieves, strangers and marauders, a gatekeeper, several shepherds and many sheep — Jesus claims he is the GATE! He guards entre to the sheep, he keeps them safe in their comings and goings.
We of course are the sheep. I personally have never really liked the assignment. Cody tells me that sheep are notoriously docile, passive and not too bright. They huddle together, prey to thieves, dependent on the gatekeeper and shepherds to protect and guide them. They are wholly unable to defend themselves and their young from physical attack. Their only real strength is that sheep trustingly follow the one shepherd whose voice they have learned to recognize.
In today’s crisis of a worldwide killing virus, we cannot avoid seeing ourselves as the sheep: separate from one another yet huddled together in our anxiety of the thieving illness, dependent on gatekeepers and shepherds to protect and guide us. We earnestly listen to first one and then another shepherd, uncertain whether this one or that is a trustworthy voice.
In the midst of our shared anxieties, if we could discover and recognize one who guards our comings and goings and assures our safety, that would be a life-giving relief. In today’s Gospel Jesus promises just that. He is the gate of safety. And more than that, wherever there are true guardians of our safety, they also are the incarnation of God’s saving love, Jesus. The medical caregivers, health care workers, support staff, first responders, our governor and public health specialists, all are the incarnation of life-giving love, the embodiment of Jesus’s care in our time. Can we believe that? Can we trust that safety and abundant life are ours today because Jesus acts in our times in one another?
May we hear this message, and may it bring us peace.