4 Easter Sunday
22 April 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle and St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Acts of the Apostles 4, 8-12 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 3, 1-2 + John 10, 11-18
Seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus says: “I am.” Now pay attention. There might be a quiz! I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. I am the Vine. Now today, I am the Good Shepherd. Each of these rely on an Old Testament image of God, but only one describes a human role. Jesus has just had an altercation with the Pharisees who have objected that he healed a blind man on the Sabbath. This is his response to them: a commentary on the quality of their leadership. It does not win him any points with the Pharisees, but it certainly tells them how he sees his role. Yet, there is a message here for us as well.
As we proclaim this Gospel today, it could well function as a critique of leadership in the church, but that would leave us out of the picture. That is not what is happening here. Jesus is speaking to you and me right now in the living context of this liturgy. He speaks of his relationship to us and of his relationship with the Father. When he speaks of knowing his sheep, it is about his relationship with us. As he describes the kind of Shepherd that he is, he is saying that unlike any other Shepherd, he shares the very essence of his life by his willingness to give all on our behalf. It is just four weeks since we commemorated that act of love. For the last three weeks, we have recalled and relived stories from after the resurrection. Now we begin to reflect on what that was all about: a God who calls us by name, who knows us and has let us come to know him and the sound of his voice in Jesus Christ.
After Jesus expresses his relationship to us, he then speaks of his relationship with the Father, and that leads to the heart of these verses today. As he links his role as Shepherd to his relationship to the Father, he shows us that his mission as this good shepherd was not simply to care for the sheep, but to make the sheep like himself by bringing them into his relationship with the Father. This is what he reveals to us today. As we listen to the Word, we may not indulge in romantic and sentimental images of a nice white robed, long haired, fair skinned man patting little woolly lambs. We must ask what it means and move more deeply into what is said, what offered, and what is promised. We can have the same relationship to the Father that Jesus enjoyed. That is what he says to us today. All it takes if for us to know him, to listen to him, and to follow him. He cares for the lost. We care for the lost. He shows mercy. We show mercy. He forgives. We forgive. He feeds. We feed.
We are being offered a relationship with the Father like the relationship that Jesus experienced: a relationship of hope, of promise, and of trust. God will do for us what God has done for Jesus because Jesus shared his very essence with us, his life, his body, his blood, and his Spirit. Obedient and desiring to do the will of the Father and conforming our lives into the life of Jesus Christ restores us to the relationship we had with the Father before there was sin and alienation. That is the mission of Jesus Christ. Today we proclaim by our lives and our faith that it is a mission accomplished. This is really good news.