Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 15 May 2011
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10
Because Jesus’ crucifixion is so much part of the Gospel story, I sometimes lose sight of how totally unfair it all was. Jesus lived a completely good life. He was the embodiment of love. Yet his life of radical obedience to God threatened the vested interests of those in power, and so they had him put to death. How did Jesus remain faithful and not retaliate against such evil and injustice? Peter tells us that he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. Jesus knew God as his shepherd. He would have known Psalm 23 – he probably often prayed it. He experienced his Father’s care and guidance; he drew strength from his relationship with God. And so when it came to the times of crisis, in the valley of the shadow of death, he knew that even there the Father was with him and would give him what he needed to keep traveling the path.
The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus’ innocence. The one who was mistreated, the victim of gross injustice, has been raised to the position of Lord, and has been declared by God to be the Messiah, the chosen one sent by God. It is the divine declaration that the way of Jesus is the way to life, even when the darkness tries to snuff it out. In his sermon, Peter offers his hearers the opportunity to become part of the Easter story. He invites them to recognize and respond to what God is doing. The God made known in Jesus does not hold people’s sins against them, but offers complete forgiveness and participation in the divine life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. To respond to this invitation is to return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls. It is to find life.
Many people know that Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd”. But in today’s Gospel reading he describes himself as the gate – the way for the sheep to go in and out to find safety and pasture. Anyone who would take us a way other than the way of Jesus is not, ultimately, leading us to life in abundance. And what is the way of Jesus? Peter writes that when we do good, and continue to do it even when we are persecuted for it, we are following Jesus’ example. He was motivated by love and absolute trust in God. Jesus did not retaliate with violence. That does not mean that Jesus was a push-over. He refused to compromise his calling. He did his Father’s work even when powerful people told him to stop. He did not allow evil to get the better of him by pulling him down to its level. When he was insulted, he did not allow the insult to lessen his image of who he was in God. Nor did he return the insult, because that would be to become the very lovelessness that he had come to conquer. How could he do that? Where did his strength and steadfastness come from? He knew God as his shepherd. He placed himself in God’s hands. And he trusted God with the conclusion of his story. The worst that people could do to him – crucifixion – was not the last word.
We can follow Jesus’ example because Jesus has brought us back to God. We are no longer like lost sheep – frightened, aimless, having to go through life looking after ourselves. We have been given the Spirit of God. We have been embraced by God – and therefore returned to the one who guards and guides us, to the shepherd who finds good pasture and refreshing water for us, who walks with us through the dark and terrifying times, and who brings us safely through to the other side.