|Fourth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 21, 29
First John 3:1-2
So as to be more available to the graces of the Scriptures, imagine Jesus' standing on the fringe of a crowd which is confronting Peter and John who are behind bars. Nobody in the crowd recognizes Jesus; they are so intent on listening to Peter's speech in defense of his having healed a man who was crippled.
Jesus keeps nodding in great affirmation of Peter's words and especially his confidence. You notice Jesus' enthusiasm for what is being said so you draw closer to Peter and John to catch the real meaning of his defense and just desiring to understand more clearly about what they are being accused.
We pray with our desires to belong as "children of God." We pray with the desires to believe that the Good Shepherd knows us each by name. The "in crowd" is defined by Jesus and we pray to experience our being included. Faith is not easy in our "prove-it-to-me" world. Peter and John lived their belief in the rising of Jesus and the healing power that gave to them for the service of others. We pray during these Easter days not only to believe, but trust the power the resurrection gives us to be healed and extend that healing in service of others.
Peter and John have cured a man who had been crippled and their good deed is not what gets them thrown into prison. They are living in the days of The Spirit. Their faith and the actions which flow from that faith threaten the religious stability of the elders and leaders of the people. They want to know how they did this curing. Peter, (now remember, Peter is speaking so boldly while under arrest) tells them exactly what they do not want to hear. They had raised the man to a walking condition through the power of the name of Jesus. Peter pushes his point a little farther. He reminds them all that Jesus was the one whom they, the leaders, had crucified. So the man, who was literally raised, was healed in the name of Jesus who was physically raised.
Peter concludes his offensive defense by telling them that Jesus, the stone they threw away has returned as the foundation of the structure through which salvation is extended to the whole world.
We will be hearing these next few Sunday's from John's Gospel concerning God 's love for us and our response. Easter is more than a day; it has implications. Spring is more than a day; it extends life into time. Jesus lays down his life in response to his Father and today's Gospel states it all quite clearly.
Jesus claims to be the Good shepherd, but the goodness is acted out in his freely laying down his life for his flock. Jesus is not a hired man, but a man who knows himself and knows what is asked of him. We have celebrated the consummation of his whole life in the laying down of that life and his resurrection. His life was not taken, but offered; his life is now offered to us through the power of that resurrection. We are then the co-recipients of his rising. The "command" he received from his Father is not only to lay his life down, but pick it up and extend that risen life to all the world.
Peter and John get in trouble for the same reason Jesus did. They all were faithful to and within a relationship. Commitment is a tremendous leap, because we are so scared of getting hurt, either physically or emotionally by looking foolish. We lay down money to purchase tickets, or clothing, or food. We buy the ticket before seeing the play, but we are committed to the risk. It might be bad! It might be wonderful, but we bought the ticket. Faith is kind of a ticket, but staying for the whole show is what the resurrection calls us to. Peter and John live it out even to their particular endings. They had checked out early during the "laying down" of Jesus' life, but now they are showing up for the second Acts of the Spirit in their lives.
The more deeply we desire to do something, the less we experience the perfect doing of it. We may desire to love someone well, but our abiding sense can be that we are not loving well enough. The strong ability each of us has to self-criticize can slowly diminish our sense of dedication. Commitment was for the early Apostles and is for us, not a decision for perfection, but for fidelity, for showing up. Jesus laid down his life in a consummation of perfection. We lay down our perfectionism and show up for our lives and show off the power of his name.
I just hung up the phone after receiving a call from a young man who shared that he had been accepted as a candidate to enter the Jesuits in the fall. I asked him how he felt about that. He said he was nervous, because he might not make a good Jesuit. (I wondered to myself what that phrase might mean.) He has bought the ticket of faith and desires to stay for the show. The show is his becoming a follower of Jesus acted out on the stage of his humanity embraced by the risen and always raising Jesus. The only real perfection we have is that we are perfectly imperfect, but loved by the Good Shepherd.
"The Good Shepherd is risen! He who laid down his life for his sheep, who died for his flock, he is risen, alleluia."
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