Acts 2, 14, 36-41 + Psalm 23 + 1 Peter 2, 20-25 + John 10, 1-10
It seems very helpful to know that this Gospel passage follows immediately after a big confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. They have expelled a man from synagogue calling him a sinner because he was born blind. Jesus gave the man sight, and there was big trouble. In his skillful way, John now compares these religious leaders and their way of doing things to Jesus and what is ultimately God’s way of doing things leaving those first readers of John to make a choice between leadership: Pharisees or Jesus. What’s it going to be: good shepherds or bad shepherds? On top of that, he calls them, “thieves”. No wonder they were hostile toward him!
This image of Jesus as the gate through which the sheep must pass coming and going is an image of comfort for us. It is an image than can give us confidence that listening and being attentive to his voice will result in the security of salvation. But there is much more to this instruction in John’s Gospel than a few verses to reassure us. Sadly this text has too often been used to frighten and threaten those who do not believe, who have not received the gift of faith and those who have not known Jesus as savior and Son of God.
There is something more here than one of the seven “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel. John was not providing us with a text by which we might threaten or shame those who do not know Jesus. Neither is he trying to pump up the confidence of those who consider themselves to be part of the flock. The choice of following Pharisees or Jesus is long past by the time John writes to tell this story. What unfolds here today just as it did for the faithful John is first writing to is an invitation to discover what it means to have and to live an ABUNDANT LIFE.
In John’s time as in our own an abundant life might easily be imagined as one that is long, happy, free of fear, healthy, and wealthy; a life full of opportunities and comforts, bigger and better than anyone could have imagined. If that is what Jesus is promising in verse ten when he explains why he has come, “that we may have life and have it more abundantly”, the death and resurrection of Jesus in fact, his whole life among us makes no sense at all. You don’t get wealthy, stay healthy, live without fear, and remain happy very long by calling the existing authorities “thieves”. You don’t have that kind of life by eating with tax collectors and sinner. That would be like thinking you are going to make millions by spending your time with the homeless sleeping under a bridge. It isn’t going to happen. I am sure you get the point here without a more examples.
The kind of life that Jesus has come to provide is different, and the only way to know what it is and recognize it, the only way to assimilate that gifted life is to pass through the gate and begin to recognize the qualities of this Good Shepherd. Knowing the Shepherd then establishes the relationship that I think he is calling “Abundant Life.”
The full and abundant life he has come to give us is a life of obedience to the Father’s will, of listening to the Father in prayer and seeking to know and follow the Father’s will at every turn and every decision. “Is this what God wants me to do?” is the door way to an abundant life.
It is also a life of service not just to those who need and ask for help, but to those who have no voice and have no way of even seeking what they need. That blind man in the story before this one did not even know who Jesus was. He never asked for a thing, but Jesus saw his need, responded and then was gone before the man ever realized what had happened. That looks like an abundant life to me.
It must also be a life of sacrifice and suffering accepted without complaint; a life of confidence that with God all things are possible, and God’s ways are not our ways. So an abundant life in Christ is not a life without pain or sacrifice. It is a life of love and patience. It is also a generous life that expects nothing in return except another opportunity to be generous again. An abundant life as we see it in Christ is a life of forgiveness – seventy time seven times of forgiveness.
The abundant life offered by Christ is then a life of peace free of fear and violence, revenge and anger. With those things gone, there is room for joy, and laughter, humility, and love centered outside of one’s self and nourishing the human spirit with a goodness that reflects the “Godness” of all things.
This is what the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel is about – abundant life. The image of an abundant life is found in the one who offers it to those who will follow his call. This is a good week to reflect upon the abundant life in the face of a great deal of material abundance for which we are all called to be stewards.