See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me
These words from the Who’s rock opera, Tommy, in some way sum up our story as it is parceled out the Sundays after Easter. After the women find the open tomb, Jesus appears to people, invites some to touch him, to feel the wounds, and others to see him. He offers them “Peace,” Shalom in his vernacular. God’s Shalom envisions a reconciling healing of all that plagues us, all that ails us, all that divides us, all that divides us from God and one another. The Bible knows all that divides us from others, from ourselves, and from God, as Sin – a word increasingly absent from our day-to-day vocabulary. We are awash with voices urging us to affirm ourselves and be more comfortable “in our own skin,” accepting of things “as they are.” Sin, originally an archery term for “missing the mark,” just seems old fashioned and unhelpful and counterproductive to the fast and positive pace of modern life.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter every year we pray, “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.” In a society increasingly devoid of any sense of Sin, it seems ever more bizarre for us to pray to “hear voices,” let alone the voice of Jesus calling us each by name. Yet, every Fourth Sunday of Easter this is what we pray. Our prayer assumes that we hear his voice: “when we hear his voice may we know him who call us each by name and follow him.”
There’s the rub. Following him. Take, for instance, Peter and John in Acts chapters 3-4. A lame man asks them for money. We see them all the time if we drive around the city holding out their hands for some spare cash. Peter says, “We have no money, but what we have we will give to you, the Name of Jesus. Rise up and walk with us!” And he walks! For this they are put in jail, hauled before a Kangaroo Court and threatened. All for having heard the voice of Jesus and follow in his way – the way of God’s Shalom, the way of seeing, hearing, touching and healing a broken world. Peter says, in effect, “Have you arrested us for doing a good deed for this man who is healed? Don’t you really have more important things to be doing yourselves?”
In John chapters 8-10, after Jesus shows mercy on a woman caught in adultery, saves her life really, as she is about to be stoned by a crowd of self-righteous religious zealots. Then he restores the sight of a man born blind. For this, he is constantly badgered and threatened by one crowd after another. He’s possessed by demons, they cry. They are set to stone Jesus just as they were ready to stone the woman. Note, we hear stories of women around the world still being stoned by crowds and by governments. This is not ancient history. This is happens every day.
As Jesus explains it in chapter 10, there is a crisis of leadership from the top. He speaks of Good Shepherds and Bad Shepherds, or “Hired Hands.” Throughout the history of his people, God spoke of the political leadership as “shepherds.” One of the early Kings had been David, a shepherd boy, thus, we can assume the origin of this metaphor of Kings as Shepherds. Some kings care for the people to the point of laying down their lives for the sake of the people, while others simply look out for themselves. For instance, Solomon. 1Kings chapter 4 tells us that Solomon’s household provision for one day was “thirty cors of choice flour, and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, fatted fowl, and a partridge in a pear tree.” That is, Solomon and his royal household ate really, really well while the people suffered in debt and were hungry. And it is Jesus who says, “Even Solomon in all his glory was not as well adorned as a lily in a field.” Not meant as a compliment!
Jesus talks about God’s shalom as love that lays down its life for others. Like him, when he calls us by name, we are to become good shepherds as well. The First Letter of John doubles down on this. Amidst those who claimed all you need is faith for salvation, the community of First John says, No! Faith must result in action – “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
This is to be the life of those who hear his voice calling them by name. But there are so many other voices saying things like, “Trust the markets to provide,” or, “Tax relief for corporations will provide,” or, “Nuclear superiority will keep us safe,” or, “More guns will keep us safe,” or “Everyone ought to strive to achieve self-sufficiency before taking care of others,” or “We can continue to burn fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow.” There are so many, many voices competing for our listening and believing. Most of whom, none of whom, even care to know us by name. Self-interest and Special Interest is the coin of the realm.
After Jesus lays out the need for Good Shepherds, the story ends, “There was again a great division among them because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon and is mad; why listen to him?’ Why listen to him, indeed! Perhaps our prayer ought to be, Lord, please spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me! Lord, if you are listening for just one minute, just for one second of one minute, can you please shut out all the competing voices, interests, merchants, politicians and commentators for just a few minutes of silence? Lord, can you please still the waters; can you please make me lie down in green pastures; can your rod and your staff please, Lord, comfort me, touch me, protect me and heal me? Lord, please give me the time, the place and the space to listen to you!
Why? Because we all want to be known. We spend a lifetime looking for relationships, reflecting on experiences, searching for someone who knows us, or even more fundamentally, to know ourselves. There is no doubt about it, the most fundamental human condition is a desire to know and to be known. All these other voices competing for our attention do not really want to know us. Can’t possibly know us. But there is one who does. Listen to him. Listen for him.
Those who listen are the sheep of his pasture. We become his people, his body and blood for the world. "His broken body is my broken body upon which others feed. His blood spilled is my blood shed to rejoice the hearts of all." (Aidan Kavanagh, Christ, Dying and Living Still) The one hope is that as folk come to know us that they, in fact, find another– The Good Shepherd. It will be so if we abide in Him and He in us. It will be so if we let him set our hearts on fire with the breath of his Holy Spirit. It will be so as he opens our hearts to the Word of God. We the lame will walk, we the blind will see, if when he calls us by name we will only listen.
There are many competing voices. Why listen to Jesus? Because only one voice calls us each by name. Only one voice knows us, really truly knows us because he became one of us. That Voice is Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. He wants to touch us and heal us! Amen.