The Sunday Scripture: The Good Shepherd
May 14, 2011
By Terrance Callan
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10.
One of our most powerful impulses is to preserve and enhance our life. This is a basic law of our nature. Ultimately it is a desire for eternal life with God. We attain this fulfillment of our desire for life through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The reading from the Gospel of John presents this theme very generally, without explicit reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection. In this reading Jesus compares himself to two different things. In verses 1-6, Jesus compares himself to the shepherd of a flock of sheep. Like a shepherd Jesus calls His own by name and they recognize His voice. He leads them and cares for them. In verses 7-10, Jesus compares himself to the gate of a sheepfold. Those who go into the sheepfold through Jesus will be safe; they will go in and out of the sheepfold and find pasture. Both comparisons are intended to convey the message that Jesus came to give us life, life to the fullest. Ultimately He accomplished this through His death and resurrection. As Jesus says in a part of this passage not included in today’s reading, He lays down His life for His sheep and takes it up again.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles provides further explanation of how Jesus gives us life. This reading begins with the introduction and the final words of a sermon that Peter preached immediately after the Holy Spirit descended on the followers of Jesus on the feast of Pentecost. Peter ended his sermon with the statement that by raising Jesus from the dead, God has made Him Lord and Messiah. Those who heard Peter then asked what they should do. Peter told them that they needed to reform their lives and be baptized in the name of Jesus.
In this way their sins would be forgiven and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Three thousand accepted Peter’s message that day. Jesus gives us life in the form of forgiveness of sins and a share in the Holy Spirit, the life that Jesus shares with God. This is available to all who are baptized in Jesus’ name.
The reading from the First Letter of Peter urges us to put up with the suffering that comes to us for doing what is right, and says that this is in accord with the example of Jesus. But as the author discusses the suffering of Jesus, he also explains how the death and resurrection of Jesus bring us life: “He himself bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.”
In some way that the author does not explain fully, when Jesus died on the cross, our sins died with Him, leaving us able to live without sin. It is this life without sin, life in the truest sense, that we have through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The excerpt from 1 Peter concludes by summing this up in the image of sheep and shepherd. We were once like sheep straying, but through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have now returned to the Shepherd, the guardian of our souls. Our Shepherd has taken care of our greatest need, the need for union with God, by laying down His life for us and then taking it up again.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.