Walk the path of love, patience, humble service

  • April 4, 2008
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A) April 13 (Acts 2:14, 36-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10)

People are rightly outraged and upset when there is a grave miscarriage of justice such as a false accusation. But the most disturbing injustice of all is when an innocent person is executed.
In the first reading, Peter delivers the shattering news to the people: the one falsely accused and crucified was none other than the Lord and Messiah. But Peter is reassuring when the panic-stricken folks frantically ask if there is any way to undo the terrible deed. The answer is simple and direct: repent and be baptized. No excuses, no explanations, no attempts to “spin” the story. Only an unqualified admission of guilt and a fresh beginning will do. Forgiveness and the gift of the spirit is something that God plans to give anyone who asks regardless of who and where they are.

We should not be overly swayed by Luke’s theological rhetoric, for what generation has not been corrupt in its unique way? A rapid glance at the history of the past century will provide abundant examples of corruption and evil. The main point is that humility and truth equals forgiveness equals a new beginning. It is a lesson difficult to learn. We have seen the reluctance of governments and corporations to truthfully admit wrong and ask forgiveness. The church has not fared much better, for much of the scandal and misery of recent years could have been avoided by simple truth-telling and repentance.

Anyone can die for a particular cause, but few if any can die as Jesus did. He died without sin, and more importantly, He died without being co-opted by the behaviour of His persecutors. It would have been easy to hate and be angry or to hurl curses from the cross. But then His death would have been no different from that of anyone else. He returned hatred with love and forgiveness and by so doing showed that He is the true shepherd and guardian of our souls. He also models the form of behaviour that God calls us to emulate. Sin is not part of our nature nor are we hardwired for injustice and violence. These we are taught by human society and traditions, and by following the Master Teacher, we can unlearn them.

Jesus puzzled His listeners with this strange parable so we are in good company. John’s narration of this story tells us more about the tensions faced by John’s community when the Gospel was written at the end of the first century than during the lifetime of Jesus. John’s community was involved in polemical encounters with not only synagogue authorities but other Christian groups who were not quite on the same page. As far as John is concerned, anyone other than Jesus who makes religious claims is a fraud and a thief: Jesus provides unique and exclusive access to God. One can only hope that we would not use similar language today or think in the same terms even while remaining true to our own convictions. Not only that — frauds can be found within every religion, including our own.

The point that is driven home is that Jesus cares deeply for those whom He calls, even to the point of laying down His life for them. He will care for them, provide access to God and gift them with abundant life. Those who are truly His own will be on the same wavelength — they will recognize and resonate with His teachings and will respond with faith. They recognize Him as someone sent from God because He walks in God’s ways and He encourages rather than condemns. He teaches — and practices — love, forgiveness and patience. He empowers His followers and helps them to walk on their own two feet.

How can we distinguish those who truly walk with God from imposters? The person who is a genuine teacher of the ways of God will display these qualities too — although perhaps not as perfectly as Jesus. Most importantly, he or she will respect the freedom and dignity of the individual and will not demand or even encourage people to relinquish their freedom or give unquestioning obedience and submission to a person, group or institution. Those who try shortcuts or manipulation to enter into God’s presence are indeed imposters and bandits. All must walk the same path: love, patience and humble service. There is no other way. 

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