Jesus shares with those who follow Him

  • April 16, 2010
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 25 (Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30)

Religious controversy is nothing new. New ideas and hot-button issues are always guaranteed to stir up passionate debates as well as the darker side of the human psyche.  

In this sense we share much with the people of the first century depicted in the pages of the New Testament. Paul and Barnabas recounted Israel’s lengthy salvation history (omitted passages) and proclaimed the Messianic status of Jesus by portraying Him as the fulfilment and summation of that history. Although some were intrigued and open to their message, it stirred up controversy among many others. People do not like change, especially when cherished ideas or traditions are challenged. Zealous “defenders of the faith” mirror the story’s intolerant behaviour in our own time.

But the narrative cannot simply be taken at face value. Our present understanding is that no person or group of people has been excluded from God’s plan of salvation or forfeited eternal life by not responding to the Christian message. In this passage and similar ones in Acts the author Luke has a definite theology that is consistent through his work: the rejection of Jesus the Messiah by the Jews and Paul’s turning towards the gentiles. The manner in which he narrates the story of Paul justifies theologically the breaking from tradition and the inclusion of the gentiles — a true theological shockwave at the time although already foreshadowed in Isaiah. God continually sends us challenges and only open hearts and minds are capable of receiving God’s message. What is rejected today may be accepted later on (as in Paul’s case) and in a very different form. The basic message is to rejoice in the compassion and generosity of God.

It is this universal nature of God’s message that forms the core of the image from Revelation. There are countless multitudes of people standing before the throne of God and they hail from every tribe, nation and language. Although originally intended for an audience under intense persecution the message is just as important today. The only true peace, shelter and satisfaction is in God — and those in the vision who enjoy this status are those who have come through the struggles of life with their faith relatively intact and their longing for God as intense as ever. We can and should expect struggle, hardship and disappointment in life but along with that an abiding sense of joy knowing the extent of God’s love for us.

In the extended and rather puzzling metaphor of the good shepherd, Jesus insists that there is a deep and unseen spiritual bond between Him and those who hear and accept His words. Faith is not an intellectual or ascetical exercise but a deep and abiding trust. Those who are already attuned to the divine message manifested in and through Jesus will be receptive to it. It follows logically that those who have “hardened their hearts” will turn away from the message. But this can be a rather superficial paradigm for conversion for we are more aware today of the complex interaction of culture, psychology, education and of other factors. And again, those who cannot bring themselves to embrace the message are not necessarily lost for God never gives up on us.

Jesus insists that all of this is possible because He is one with the Father. We should understand this verse as a description of relationship — the unity and harmony of mind, heart and will. In chapter 14 of this same Gospel, John’s Jesus is going to muddy the issue even more by stating that “The Father is greater than I!” But the essential point is clear: Jesus shares all that He has with those who are willing to believe in Him and follow Him. Eternal life, the gift of the Spirit and a deeply personal relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son all await us — not only in the hereafter but in this life if we so choose. And nothing will ever separate us from Christ.

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