By Barbara Klugh
Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday, an apt metaphor that captures the redeeming—and ongoing—work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each year, the lectionary appoints Psalm 23 and a portion of Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel where Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd.
Acts 4:5-12: In last week’s reading, following the healing of a lame man, Peter and John spoke to the crowd about Jesus being the Messiah whom God raised from the dead. While Peter was speaking, Peter and John were arrested and put in jail overnight by the temple authorities for blasphemy—for preaching the resurrection.
Our reading begins the following day. The rulers, elders, and scribes had Peter and John stand among them and asked, “By what power, or by what name did you do this?” Again, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, used this as opportunity to tell about the resurrection of Jesus Christ—that the healing had been done “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is `the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
The lectionary ends here, and the council tried to figure out what to do with Peter and John. They knew “a notable sign has been done through them” but they didn’t want them spreading the Good News; they ordered them not to speak again in Jesus’ name. Peter and John answered, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
When Peter and John told what had happened to their friends, and they all prayed—not for release from persecution, but for boldness to speak the Lord’s Word.
Psalm 23: Attributed to David, this beloved and comforting psalm uses the metaphors of a shepherd and his sheep and of the host of a lavish banquet to describe the Lord’s care for his people, whose presence provides for his people and guides them through life and death.
In their book, Psalms, Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger describe several ways to explore Psalm 23. Here’s one about the term “shepherd.” They invite us to consider the imagery in the prophetic discourse of chapter 34 in the book of Ezekiel, which speaks against the false shepherds of Israel. God, the true shepherd, will step forward to lead his people, and then tells of his plan to raise up a new David as shepherd, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be the prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken (Ezek.34:23-24).” As Christians, we see Jesus, offspring of the line of David, as the promised good shepherd.
1 John 3:16-24: In this week’s reading, John concentrates on loving our neighbor. Since we are the recipients of the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus, we should be willing to lay down our lives for others. John asks, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
We are called to show as much love as Jesus showed for us through self-giving and care for others. This love expresses itself in “truth and action,” not just in words.
When we feel like we’ve failed and are full of self-criticism, John tells us that “God is greater than our hearts , and he knows everything.” And, he also told us in our reading from the Second Sunday of Easter, “But is anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
By our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our love for one another, we experience God’s deep and abiding love by the presence of the Holy Spirit that God has given to us.
John 10:11-18: In our reading, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This describes the close relationship between Jesus and each of his followers. Jesus is also foretelling his own death.
Jesus contrasts the big difference between the hired hand (the Pharisees) and himself. When trouble comes, the hired hand cares nothing for the sheep; he will leave them and run away. Jesus repeats, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus then speaks of “other sheep who do not belong to this fold.” This may refer to the people of Israel who have not yet responded to his call, or Gentiles, or the people of the whole world—or probably all of these. Jesus says, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus knows the Father loves him, “because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” Here Jesus is referring not only to his own death, but also to his resurrection. Jesus did what he was called to do. And now we are called, as Jesus’ disciples, to carry the message to other sheep who do not yet belong to the flock.