We are encouraged to pray for the strength and courage to lay down our lives as did the Good Shepherd. We all will die of course, but how we live our days of life will be the measure of our following Jesus. We are encouraged not so much to “die” for Christ, but “live” for Christ.
Most of us are laying down our lives for some person or persons. We pray today for the freedom and joy which it takes to really live while dying to ourselves.
The temple officials and religious leaders have arrested Peter and John after the healing of the man who was crippled. Many, because of this healing, were coming to believe in their message about Jesus. Peter and John are dragged into the midst of this religious gathering and asked two direct questions about the healing event. They want to know by what “power” and by what “name” was this performed?
What we hear in today’s First Reading is Peters explanation and direct confrontation with the leaders. The “name” and the “power” are the same. Jesus, crucified by these same leaders, but Who the very God of Israel has raised has also raised this man who had been crippled, to health. The elders are the “builders” and they have rejected Jesus Who is the “Cornerstone” of salvation. This is a scriptural image referring to a line from Psalm 118. Peter affirms Jesus as the One and Only source for salvation, given to the world by the God of these religious leaders of Israel.
Peter and John have done a “good deed” and in keeping with the ways of Jesus, good deeds done in His name, can result in opposition and fear-based persecution. From its earliest days, the Church and the followers of Jesus have been called out, knocked down, and done in by those forces of darkness and fear. It follows then that when there is persecution of the Church, the Church must be doing something good.
For the next several Sundays of this Easter season we will be hearing some familiar themes from the Gospel of John. Jesus makes many imaginative “I am “statements. “I am the light.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the living water.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.” When the guards come out to meet Him in the Garden, they are asked about whom they seek. Jesus says simply, “I am.”
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say twice “I am the good shepherd.” John has Jesus continue Jesus’ discussion and confrontation with the Pharisees after His having healed a man who was born blind. This man, who was blind, first heard the voice of Jesus and through believing in that voice came to believe and that was his new way of seeing.
The Pharisees are blinded by what they see and so are impaired of hearing and do not believe. Hearing and believing become the central message of Jesus’ saying that He is the “Good Shepherd”. It is the shepherd’s voice that is important and the sheep are not ignorant, but attentive and responsive. Jesus is telling those who can hear and want to hear important aspects of just what the Shepherd does for His flock.
In other chapters John has presented Jesus as teacher, finder, healer, feeder and forgiver. In this reading, Jesus is presented as the Shepherd Who will lay down His life for His flock. He will stay faithful to Whom He is while the “hired” or the Pharisees turn away and have turned away from their vocation of tending their “flock”. Jesus is very direct with His listeners who do not want to hear, but they obviously do. He announces that He will stay faithful to Himself and His mission and thereby to the “flock”, because of the love of His Father. The Pharisees hear that they are interested only in their being paid and so have made that their mission and not guiding their “flock” with care.
Jesus claims that He is living this through, because the Father loves Him and desires that all of God’s people become one holy family with the Father. This ultimate uniting will depend on the mission of Jesus being continued through the verbal and non-verbal preaching and living of His Voice, the Good News.
Each time John presents Jesus as saying “I am”, John is also saying that Jesus claims His followers as those who can also say with confidence, “I am” and “we are”. In this section we are not sheep, but listeners who learn the tenor and timber of His voice and message. We have learned and continue to learn the other voices within and around us. They can sound so inviting, comforting, and of Grace. They just might truly be, but it takes a long time to be so in tune with the Voice of Jesus, that we need experiences of life and prayer to figure out the difference. Our egos need attention but not constant indulgence. Our fears are to be respected, but not adored. Our cultures’ ways are to be influential, but not conformed to entirely.
Most of us, upon listening to our own recorded voices, wonder if that is really us! What we sound like to others is not the exact way we sound like to ourselves. People who are visually impaired learn quickly who is who by their footsteps, pace, noisiness as well as their voices. Jesus is telling us that He will keep calling in the same voice and when we begin to follow, He will keep speaking. There will always be other voices, from within ourselves and from outside. How will we ever learn to recognize His voice as different from our self-centered voices! One sure way, (I know you are not going to like this), is to trust the adventure of mystery. It seems that is part of His voice pattern. The Good Shepherd seems to be calling always to His sheep to follow Him into the unfamiliar, the pastures, yonder, over there, and of His fidelity. The Pharisees did not like it either, but the man who was cured from his blindness came to like it.
“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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