In John’s Gospel, Jesus made “I AM” statements suggestive of the voice of God from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14.

Jesus shepherds God’s people

  • April 16, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 26 (Acts 4:7-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18)

There is a rather cynical observation that no good deed ever goes unpunished. The incident in Acts seems to support those sentiments. No sooner had Peter healed a crippled man than he found himself under arrest and standing before the authorities to answer charges. He protested that they were merely doing a good deed and healing the poor man.

Why such a fuss?

But it wasn’t about the healing itself, as the question of the authorities revealed: by what power and name did you do this? It was all about power and authority, as many religious controversies often are. Peter’s answer was devastating.

The act of healing was not his own, but the work of the Risen Christ. The witness of the continuing work of Christ was an indictment of those who had killed Jesus, as well as being a confirmation and vindication of all that He had taught and done. From this, Peter concluded that Jesus was the only legitimate power and authority in town. He denied that salvation can come from anyone else or from any other name. In the tug-of-war with the religious establishment, the power and authority of Jesus had been asserted and proven.

This all made perfect sense in its first-century context. On the Day of the Lord, understood by the early Christians as the return of Jesus, only those who called on the name of the Lord — Jesus — would be saved. In later centuries, the “no other name” assertion was often used as a polemical weapon to exclude and disenfranchise non-Christians and even dissident Christians. This was not its intent, and that is not how it should be used. The saving work of Christ benefits people in many different and often surprising ways. There is no reason to be smug about the behaviour of the religious authorities of the first century. Humans have a long and sad history of deflecting the will of God. Those sent by God to challenge and teach us are often rejected and persecuted, and even when accepted, given mere lip-service.

The author of 1 John exulted in the fact that he and his community were children of God. In the community of John’s Gospel and Letters, people were not born children of God but became so by the transforming experience of a second birth by the Spirit and abiding in Christ. John admitted that he and his followers did not have the full picture yet — they had no idea what they would ultimately become. Life in the Spirit involves leaving behind the familiar and being willing to put oneself totally into the Spirit’s hands. That is why people are so resistant to the Spirit — the mere thought of this generates fear in many, and fear seriously hinders the Spirit’s work.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus made a number of “I AM” statements suggestive of the voice of God from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. These statements revealed qualities or powers of God that were clearly evident in Jesus. He was the sustainer (bread of life), the illuminator (light of the world) and the giver and restorer of life (resurrection and the life).

Here Jesus used a potent image from the Old Testament — the shepherd — to reveal Himself as the guide and protector. As the good shepherd, He contrasted Himself with the many examples of those who failed miserably in their role and let their flocks down badly. We have seen too many examples of this in our own time. But there are a few Old Testament passages in which God declared His intent to shepherd the people of God personally, and Jesus saw Himself as the fulfilment of that promise. We can be led and taught by Jesus rather than mortals. He ended the encounter with the startling statement that He had the power to lay down His life and pick it up again.

Possessing the power of life itself, Jesus was clearly not a passive victim but in total control of His destiny. As with the sheep in the story, if we are careful we can recognize and heed the voice of Jesus even amidst the din and confusion of the world. It is always the voice that calls us to compassion, love, unity, kindness and service. There is clearly no other voice worth listening to.

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