Jesus won't disappoint us

  • April 24, 2009
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B) May 3 (Acts 4:7-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)

In struggles for survival and power intelligent and compassionate dialogue is often the first victim. Words uttered or written in the heat and polemics of the moment can have a negative and even dangerous afterlife.

The Acts of the Apostles depicts one such struggle (or at least Luke’s interpretation of it) — that of the young Christian movement as it defined itself over and against the structures of the traditional Judaism of the temple and its authorities. Peter and the others were convinced that they were speaking on behalf of God’s definitive emissary and that His imminent return would coincide with the universal judgment. It is no surprise that Peter again hurled the accusations in the faces of the authorities. They had crucified Christ but God had overruled their actions by raising Jesus from the dead. And coupled with the accusation was the triumphant insistence that this same Jesus would be the only means by which one could be saved.

These theological views are understandable in a first-century context. They mirror an apocalyptic theology and a very limited worldview. Our own theological horizon should be much broader. Our collective experience over the past two millennia has opened our eyes and given us a broader and deeper understanding of God and human beings. “No other name” should not be used to delegitimize or exclude people of other religious traditions nor should it define an elitist gathering of the “saved.” “No other name” would be closer to “no other example” — love, compassion, a passion for justice and obedience to God. This is the path that all must journey regardless of the labels they wear. 

According to John, one is not born a child of God — that is what everyone must become. This is the greatest gift of love that God can give. It signifies a new beginning but this is just the first step in the journey towards God. The end result is still veiled but John gives us a startling hint: being a child of God means becoming like God. Some theologies portray humanity in negative terms — we are sinful and corrupt and our salvation consists of Christ sort of covering up our sins in order to gain us entry into heaven. But this view cannot stand: we are invited to enjoy a divine state. Our own spiritual journey cannot and must not remain static. It is not a matter of merely staying out of trouble and keeping a clean record. Becoming a child of God means continual growth, change and transformation. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts. Laziness, laxity, indifference and an unwillingness to search and grow are just some of the obstacles that can hinder our journey as God’s children.

The sting of disappointment and betrayal: who has not felt it at one time or another? The experience is even more painful when it is at the hands of leaders — those sworn to serve, guide and protect us. And no one is immune: political leaders, religious leaders, teachers, pastors, doctors and policemen have been among those who have let down those they serve. It is easy to succumb to cynicism. Who can be trusted? What makes the difference between a good leader and a bad one?

The answer is simple: what motivates them. Those in it for money, power over others or respect and honour will be the first ones to bolt and run when the going gets tough. The good leader or guide is one whose sole motivation is love and service. This means a willingness to walk with their charges, sharing their struggles and difficulties and not standing aloof with an attitude of superiority. Jesus is the supreme example of such a person and He assures us that as the Good Shepherd He will never let us down or disappoint us. He does not count the cost and is willing to lay down His life for the sake of others. Human beings and institutions may fail and may betray us in various ways, but in a world of great confusion, uncertainty, Jesus is the beacon of light that will lead us home.

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