Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Great, Good Shepherd. A Homily from John 10:1-10 for the Fourth Sunday of the Easter Celebration

Thoughts on the Gospel Reading 4th Sunday of Easter, Year A
(John 10:1-10)
First Posted May 15, 2011
Revised 5.1.14

THE Gospel Lectionary reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter brings us once again to the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. This, of course, is a running conflict between them, a conflict which will ultimately end in Jesus' execution.
I think it is true that today most would desire to hear a fresh word from the LORD. I mean, why else be here? But, perhaps it is also true that what we need to hear today -- more than a description of the conflict between Jesus and the religious -- is a word of encouragement and hope. To aid us in this regard I want to ask you two questions that arise from this text:
1) Do you recognize the voice of the shepherd?
2) What is the pasture that the shepherd offers?
In part, today's Gospel reads: 
"The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
These words of the Master offer us true comfort. If we are sheep of his fold, we will recognize his voice. That is, we will be able to discern his leadings, his callings and his warnings -- he is our shepherd, after all, and we have learned to appreciate the sense of security we hear in his voice.
And what is it the LORD voices to his sheep? You know, don't you? You’ve heard it before. Jesus comes to us with words like, "peace be unto you," and "Lazarus, come forth," and "so send I you."
"Peace Be Unto You" 
These may be the most important words the LORD speaks to his people, especially in this world of woe, this world at constant war with itself. 
World events seem an ongoing story of pillage and trauma. But, this is not all. Daily, and even within this small community of faith grief and heartache come to, unearthing fresh sorrow. These daily events really served only to underscore what we already know only to well -- the world is deeply broken.
But, honesty demands that we come clean at least with ourselves and confess that, it is not only the world that is broken, but we are deeply broken as well. That is, we carry within our own hearts at least the seeds of war and violence and hated and prejudice. We carry within ourselves the fruit of broken homes and dysfunctional families and sickened communities.
Clearly, it is in the midst very brokenness that we hear the words, "Peace be unto you..." And, while this saying of the Christ does not remove the trouble from our world or our hearts, they do comfort, they do secure, they do bring momentary respite.
These words of comfort tell us of the LORD's solidarity with our world. They tell us of the LORD's personal understanding of how the brokenness surrounding us and within us shapes us, saddens us and causes our resolve to weaken and our hope to languish. But, they also tell us that no matter what may come, he has not given up on us; they tell us his commitment to us has not deteriorated.
"Lazaurs, Come Forth"
We can also hear the Master speak the words of breath into being, "Lazaurs, come forth!"  These words remind us that within the words of Christ lives the LORD of life. These words remind us that the seemingly hopeless moments are the ones most bathed in his presence and power. And these words remind us that the human condition, with is power to drag us down and knock us out, do not have the final word.
When I think of the Christ as the LORD of life I especially think of the little children who suffer at the hands of their caretakers and their loved ones. I think of how these exploited little ones, no doubt some even residing very near this building, will never have a chance at life and joy and laughter. But I also think of how their desperate reality is not the only reality, and not the ultimate reality! I am led to think of how there will be a day when this is situation of death will be turned upside down and those cheated of life will be given new life; they will be given back all they have lost! 
Which leads us to the final word of the Master...
"So Send I You"
The entire quote reads: 
"As the Father has sent me, so send I you."  
We must remember that we are now sent out into this world at constant war with itself. We are sent to stand with the exploited like we have just described, and to offer peace and comfort to the those, like us, who have been shattered by the human condition. 
We cannot name the name of the Christ otherwise. 
I mean, truly, how can we align ourselves with Jesus and the work of redemption he did while here if we turn our eyes from the world? How can we presume to name the name of the one whom we have not seen, whose voice we have not heard, if we neglect those suffering whom we have seen and whose cries we have heard? We are sent and we must go. There is no more important work.
The second question we ask, again comes from a careful reading of the text. What is the pasture that the Shepherd offers? 
The text reads:
 "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture."
And, of course, here the Responsorial Psalm for today is just what we need to help us unpack the idea, for it comes from the Shepherd Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
You see, the LORD has determined to meet the needs of those in his flock; this is his promise.

He leads me in right path for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me; for you are with me; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

That is, the LORD has determined to guide the way of his flock by going through the dark valley with them.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
The LORD has determined to bring to his flock the very best of life, life in full, life that is genuine life. Oh, not those silly things for which other flocks strive -- mere silver and gold, houses and lands, nothing so crass and fleeting. No, the LORD brings the ministry of real life to his flock and with this he meets their every need.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
The LORD has determined to offer his flock his daily presence, and what could possibly be more sustaining than this? To be sure, the goodness and kindness which follows his people does not mean they will never feel the cut of sorrow or the loss of significant others or themselves. Instead, what is in view here is the reality that the presence of the LORD is the very comfort and the strength his people need to face down the human condition. His presence sustains his people and causes them to persevere.

John 10:1-10