Jesus took on for us a sacred responsibility and sacrifice

  • April 17, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 29 (Acts 4:7-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)

Without proof the proclamation of the Resurrection would have seemed to be nothing more than a wild tale or what we would call an urban myth. The apostles were quick to provide that proof — a crippled man was restored to health right before the eyes of the astonished crowd. The temple authorities did not deny that something marvelous had taken place. Since there are many spirits and powers in the world, they demanded to know the power and name by which the apostles had performed the healing.

This was the opportunity the apostles were waiting for: Jesus Christ of Nazareth was the ringing response. The very one whom the crowd had crucified was raised from the dead by God and exalted to the heavens. This was why Peter was able to proclaim that the name and power of Jesus trumped all other authorities and names that were contending for domination. Only the name and power of Jesus could be called upon for salvation. Jesus had paid the dues and He had received the authority from God — case closed.

The statement makes sense in its historical context but needs to be used with nuance and caution in other settings, especially our own. We live in a very different age and we have 2,000 years of experience upon which to reflect. Exalting the name and power of Jesus need not denigrate the world’s other religions nor exclude and condemn those who are not Christians. Jesus the Christ (not Christianity) stands at the beginning and end of history but everything in between has its place and purpose in God’s compassionate plan of human salvation. God’s Word has spoken in diverse ways and in many times and places.

Returning to the proof of the Resurrection: what is the proof we can offer today? To paraphrase the prayer of St. Francis, wherever there is hope, faith, love, light, forgiveness, justice, healing, new life and compassion, then and there Christ is risen. We are called to proclaim the Resurrection in ways that make a difference.  

The author of John’s Gospel and letters insisted that we are not born children of God but become so by being born again (from above) in the Spirit. He denies that we can claim to be God’s children if we do not know God — and that means a personal relationship. God is not an idea in the intellect but a living reality that we need to experience. When someone has been reborn as a child of God they become a very different sort of person — one who reflects the compassion, mercy and Oneness of God in every aspect of their life. The Spirit draws us continually into a closer likeness with Jesus who is the image of the unseen God. Being saved cannot be separated from being transformed.

What is a bad shepherd? Very simply put, it is one who doesn’t really care for the well-being of the sheep — they are in it just for themselves. The first time danger presents itself they disappear and leave the sheep to their fate. In the Old Testament (Ezek 34 and Zech 11) the shepherd defined the role of religious leaders and kings. Unfortunately, human beings are not always up to the task — sin and selfishness often gain the upper hand. Power is a powerful drug and tends to corrupt, and absolute power, as they say, corrupts absolutely. Israel’s ruin resulted when the injustice and indifference of its shepherds prevailed. God resolved to take over personally the role of shepherd of the people. Jesus placed Himself in that role as the incorruptible one and the one willing to lay down His life for the sake of the flock. He did not run from danger but was willing to suffer humiliation and death.

Throughout history and in our own time great harm has been done to the Church whenever the institution along with its privileges and good image were placed above the welfare of the people of God. Leadership of any sort is never a right or even an honour, but a sacred responsibility and a sacrifice.

The motivation of Jesus was not money, power, honour or prestige but love. So it is with anyone who walks in God’s ways regardless of the label they wear.

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