God's Word on Sunday: Jesus suffered to heal, transform humanity

  • April 28, 2023

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A) April 30 (Acts 2:14a, 36b-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10)

Many terrible things are done by ordinary, otherwise decent, people. It is easy to demonize a few villains and lay the blame on them, but what about when many have a hand — directly or indirectly — in the crime? Most of the time this is due to ignorance. People are not really aware of the true state of affairs or the consequences of their actions. Reality is refracted through a lens of fear, prejudices and commonly held opinions — usually wrong. Many are easily manipulated by purveyors of misinformation (lies) and demagogues.

Peter informed the people of Jerusalem of the true identity and mission of Jesus. He bolstered his claims by Jesus’ many wondrous deeds, but most of all, by the fact that God had raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him to the heavens. Suddenly the eyes and hearts of the crowd were opened — all of the self-deception was gone. They were aghast and grief-stricken, and they were overtaken by panic and a sense of hopelessness.

But there is always another chance, and Peter assured them that repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus would restore them and put them on the right track. As a bonus, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift of mercy and grace was intended for all, near and far, and for everyone called by the Lord.

He exhorted them to save themselves from that corrupt generation, but we can question whether that generation was any more corrupt than other generations, including our own. As part of his apocalyptic worldview, he definitely expected an imminent final judgment, so the time was short. The people were not about to miss out on this second chance, and a fair number were baptized that day. No obstacles or conditions were imposed — there was only welcome. The net was being cast as wide and far as possible.

We no longer have the same sense of urgency, but perhaps we should. Our own collective situation is uncertain and perilous. It is important that as many people as possible, whatever their situation and state of life, have a personal relationship with the Lord.

Accepting abuse and blame when we have done nothing wrong goes against our natural inclinations. Humans want to get even, to give back what they have endured, and to have justice. So why should we do nothing in the face of mistreatment? The simple answer is that the Lord Jesus did. He bore the rage and sin of the world patiently and lovingly, placing all of His trust in God to vindicate Him. He avoided the all too human temptation to return evil for evil, not because He was weak, but because He was strong. This was not gratuitous suffering but was for the healing and transformation of humanity.

The path walked by Jesus during His earthly sojourn was not for Him alone. It is the path that all of us, to one degree or another, will have to walk in our journey to the kingdom of God. There is incredible spiritual power in patience, long-suffering, non-violence and forgiveness.

Most modern city dwellers are not acquainted with sheep or shepherds, so the metaphors used by Jesus lose something in translation. But it was even a bit puzzling for His audience — what do sheep and shepherds have to do with God and eternal life? Jesus was addressing the problem of how we can tell genuine teachers and prophets from charlatans, self-seekers and the ignorant. One should not be taken in by outward appearances, fancy words, emotional manipulation and appeals to authority. Discerning the genuine is a function of the heart and the soul. We turn off the clamour and barrage of words and images around us and listen to the voice within.

A heart that yearns for what is good, beautiful, true, holy, compassionate and life-giving will not be disappointed. Like the sheep responding to the voice of Jesus the shepherd, we will hear His voice calling us through all the noise and we will follow. Jesus promised that those who do will not only enjoy life, but abundant life, even while we still live. Abundant life is the quality of earthly life that He will grant us, which is living in the conscious awareness of the presence of God and experiencing friendship with the Lord Jesus.