EASTER 4A - Acts 2:42-47/John 10:1-10
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. So all three years, A, B, and C, we read from this tenth chapter of the Fourth Gospel what can be called the Good Shepherd monologue. Although it is a complicated matter in that Jesus identifies himself as being the Good Shepherd, the Gatekeeper, and even the Gate to the sheep-fold.
And it would be the assertion of the Fourth Gospel that Jesus being the logos, God’s Word, made flesh to dwell (tent) among us, it could be argued, and indeed should be, that Jesus knew as much about being one of the sheep of God’s pasture as anyone among us.
If that is not all confusing enough (Shepherd, Gatekeeper, Gate, Sheep; chopped up over three years) try this out for size from one of the commentaries on this passage: “The passage is theological, Christological, soteriological, eschatological, ecclesiological and ethical!”
More to the point, it becomes perfectly obvious that the language employed to tell us who Jesus is is the language of metaphor. In fact, it is now argued that all language, every single word we speak is metaphor.
When one says, for instance, "flower," does that word render a complete understanding of what a flower is? Let alone our experience of flowers? And just how any one of us experiences flowers or a particular flower can be as different as night and day - provided we know what we mean by "night" and "day." When one speaks, for instance, of "the dark night of the soul" that very well can be describing an emotional and psychological state that can take place as much in the daytime as in the nighttime.
Owning up to this requires Christians to reexamine just what we mean by things like "the truth." In the fourth gospel Jesus says to Pilate, "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." (Jn 18:37) That is, the sheep of his fold hear his voice. To this Pilate makes perhaps the shrewdest of observations when he replies, "What is truth?" Yes, what indeed!
So breaking through all the metaphor, we ought to conclude that for Christians Truth came as a person - a flesh and blood man called Jesus. Not a proposition, not an argument, not a set of beliefs, but a person. For Christians the answer to the popular song of Joan Osborne, "What if God was one of us," turns out to be, "He is," for He was and is and ever shall be. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
Jesus is God. Jesus is man. Jesus is one of us. God, YHWH the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus, is Truth. And not one of these or any other metaphor can possibly exhaust the meaning of this basic Christian understanding.
Yet, those who take the time to enter the sheepfold through Jesus the gate, those who hear him calling them by name, those who desire to follow the good shepherd, come to know two important things about the Truth:
1) What God says to you in Jesus is this: you are forgiven. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is the message Jesus spoke and lived. There are other things that he could have said to us, and most of us are familiar with these because some forms of Christianity relay such messages as: Good News! If you are very very good, God will love you. Or, Good News! If you are very very sorry for not having been very very good, God will love you. Or, God Loves You! Now get back in line before God changes God’s mind! None of these are truly good news. Instead God says, “You are forgiven. I love you anyway, no matter what. I love you not because you are particularly good nor because you are particularly repentant nor because I am trying to bribe you or threaten you into changing. I love you because I love you.”
2) The early Christians were convinced that the Spirit has a particular care for the church, supplying the community with all it needs. She does so, however, in a peculiar way. The gifts you need she gives to someone else. The gifts you are given are meant for someone else. The Christian community can live only by the sharing and giving of these gifts. The Church at its best is a community that lives by this kind of sharing, exercising its generosity not only within its own circle, but toward outsiders as well. None of us has any higher claim on God than the claim to God’s willing forgiveness. We are all outsiders, miraculously included within the community of the gospel by God’s call.
(Points 1 & 2 are both from William Countryman’s, The Good News of Jesus, [Cowley, Boston: 1993]
pp. 3-5, 105)
The result of understanding the Truth in just this way, says the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, is a community of people who share all things in common, giving thanks that all things come from God. Further such Christian community blesses these things held in common and redistributes them as any have need. It is not easy. It is messy. It is not "fair" in the sense that we tend to think of fairness. But apparently it is God's will. Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
God sent Jesus to help us to get all of this. God sent Jesus to deliver this “News.” God sent Jesus to call into community people who want to live this way. People who want to know God’s love and care for them in this way.
We all want to be those people who “come in and go out.” We all want to experience that kind of freedom. We all want to experience the kind of care and protection being described by Jesus and by Luke in the Book of Acts. We all want to participate and share in this life of abundance Jesus comes to bring to us.
I believe it hinges on our Stewardship of time and especially observing Sabbath time. We are to become those people who “spend much time with one another in the Temple”. We are to become those kinds of people who read the Bible, take communion and pray together, not alone, not by ourselves, but in community, fellowship and in relationship – in relationship with God in Christ and in relationship to one another.
The Good News, sisters and brothers, is that our God wants us to experience an abundance of all of that really matters. Our God wants to take care of all of our needs. Our God has supplied us with a particular care for all of our needs by the giving and sharing of our gifts in community. When people see us living in this Way the Lord will indeed add to our number day by day! Amen!