Acts 4:8-12 || Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29 || 1 John 3:1-2 || John 10:11-18
Every year on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear from John’s tenth chapter…Jesus’ discourse on the Good Shepherd.
As disciples who desire to follow the Lord’s lead, this 10th Chapter of John offers us some important insights and challenges for our faith and how we live that faith.
It’s important to note what is meant by the term “good.” It is a word that we often gloss over and associate with some kind of moral implication. But here what is meant by “good” is really “model” or “true.”
Jesus presents us in this chapter a definition of who we are called to be as his disciples. This discourse is not meant to be simply a self-description of Jesus, or a model of how God cares for us. Jesus intends for us to be shepherds ourselves.
He provides the example of the model shepherd, the true shepherd that he calls us to be.
With this paradigm, we can hear the second reading we just heard with a different understanding.
See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God….And when that love is revealed, as it is in Jesus, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
This intimate love is at the heart of resurrection and the resurrected life. Resurrection is about a laying down life kind of love. Four times in today’s gospel Jesus says that he lays down his life. Four times he says to us, “I love you.” Four times he describes the pattern for our lives.
John’s first letter is explicit about this pattern: “He laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” as we hear in John’s First Letter.
Or as we heard on Palm Sunday from our pastor…We are called to die, before we die, so that when we die, we won’t die. This kind of sacrificial love, this “agape” love, is at the heart of resurrection and the resurrected life.
In laying down his life Jesus chooses us. He is not the victim of another’s power or agendas. If he is a victim at all, he is the victim of his own all consuming divine love. His life was not taken from him, it was given to us; a choice and gift he freely made. That is what makes Jesus the good shepherd, the model shepherd, the true shepherd.
For Christ, love is lived; and how we live is always a choice. It is a choice driven by our recognition of, compassion for, and willingness to do something about the life and needs of another, whether they are family or friends, people of this parish community or in this community of Mustang, strangers who pass through our lives, or anonymous ones talked as we turn to those trapped in poverty, hunger, homelessness, or lack of education.
The opportunities for laying down life love are not just circumstances. They are people, human beings created in the image and likeness of God. We cannot claim to believe in Jesus if we are unwilling to lay down our life for another, regardless of who he or she is. If we believe, we will love. If we do not love, neither do we believe.
Our belief in Jesus cannot be separated from how and whom we love. Our belief in his name, our relationship with him, our call to be his disciples, is all revealed in laying down our life for another. Even if we never say the name “Jesus,” laying down our life for another reveals our belief in that name.
Whenever we lay down our life for another we proclaim that resurrection is not just an event in the past. It is a present reality, not just a historical remembrance. Laying down our life makes Jesus’ resurrection tangible and real. The only reason we can ever lay down our life for another is because Jesus first laid down his life for us. Jesus is the source of the goodness that dwells in us. The shepherd never takes his sheep somewhere he is unwilling to go. He never asks of his sheep something he is himself unwilling to give. Every time we lay down our life in love for another we remember Jesus’ death and proclaim his resurrection even as we await the day of his coming.
We need only be present, open our eyes, listen, and pay attention to know how and where love asks us to lay down our life for another. A laying down life kind of love means we will have to change our usual routines. It is no longer business as usual. The life and well being of “the other” now sets our agenda, guides our decisions, and determines our actions. That sounds a lot like how the model shepherd, the true shepherd lived and died.
Laying down our life is not, however, the end of life. It wasn’t for was Jesus, nor will it be for us. It is, rather, the beginning of a new life, a more authentic life, a life that looks a lot like Jesus’ life. It is the life in and by which we hear the voice of the good shepherd call our name and we follow where he leads.
Call it what you want…Easter, resurrection, the good shepherd; it’s all the same…a laying down life kind of love.