11 May 2014
Fourth Sunday of Easter
(Good Shepherd Sunday)
Easter 4A (RCL)
1 Peter 19-25
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, and in the RCL, the Gospel reading always comes from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel. We expect to hear Jesus say, “I am the Good Shepherd,” but in Year A, we hear him say, “I am the door.” We do some violence to the Gospel by placing the chapter division just here. It makes it seem like this passage can stand on its own, when in fact, this discourse continues immediately on from the story of the healing of the man born blind. Jesus has just told the Pharisees that because they insist that they see, their sin remains. The blind man has been put out of the synagogue, and has encountered Jesus. The story makes it clear that everyone who confesses the Christ is to be expelled from the synagogue. Jesus then immediately says, “Truly, I tell you, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs over the wall is a thief and a bandit.” Are we to assume that the Pharisees are thieves and bandits?
Jesus goes on to say that the shepherd enters by the door, calls his sheep by name and leads them out. Presumably, with the expulsion of the those who confess the Christ ringing in our ears, we are to hear that the shepherd has intentionally called his own and led them out of the synagogue. The disciples do not understand this, so Jesus goes on to say that he is the door. This is one of the great I AM statements (ego eimi he thura). It’s an odd image, but he repeats it twice in quick succession. Those who came before Jesus were thieves and robbers, but whoever enters through Jesus will be saved.
We can easily imagine John’s community feeling cut adrift after the expulsion from the synagogue, but rather than telling them that they have a new shepherd in their new circumstance, Jesus tells them he is the door, both the door out of the synagogue and the door into a new community, in which they are saved. Through him, they will be able to go in and go out and find pasture. One can also imagine Judaizing Christians, like those who so troubled Paul’s community, showing up to steal them away from their new found freedom, whereas Jesus wants them to have life abundant.
What is surprising here, is that it inverts the way we usually think of Church. We think of coming to church in order to be fed. Here, one must go out to find pasture. The picture is of all the sheep of a village gathered into the courtyard for the night, and then in the morning, each of the responsible shepherds arrives and calls out the sheep of a particular flock to follow him to pasture. If we are to follow Jesus and be fed, we will have to follow him out into the world, away from the safety of the fold.
That requires learning to recognize the voice of Jesus in order to respond to it. There are plenty of other voices calling for attention, but we must recognize the voice of Jesus. How do we distinguish one voice from another? The thief comes only the steal and kill and destroy, while the shepherd comes to lead us to abundant life. That becomes the criterion of discernment. Which voices are calling us to overflowing life, and which are calling us to our own harm?