Engaging the Word: Readings for 4/17/16 (The Fourth Sunday of Easter)

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By Barbara Klugh 

Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

The Good Shepherd, Monkland Church, England. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Good Shepherd, Monkland Church, England. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to 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.

Raising of Tabitha by Louis Testelin, 1652. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Raising of Tabitha by Louis Testelin, 1652. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Acts 9:36-43: In this week’s reading, we turn back toward the missionary activity of Peter with an example of God’s power working through him.

In Joppa a disciple named Tabitha (aka Dorcas), who had performed many good works, became ill and died. The women who tended her body sent for Peter. When he arrived, he went with the women to the room where Tabitha lay upstairs. All the widows were weeping and showing the garments Dorcas had made. Peter sent the grieving women out of the room and prayed. Empowered by the Spirit, he turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Tabitha opened her eyes and sat up. Peter helped her get up and called the widows so they could see she brought back to life. Knowledge of this miracle led many to the Lord.

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.

The Lord is My Shepherd by Eastman Johnson, 1863. Public domain, Via Wikimedia Commons.

The Lord is My Shepherd by Eastman Johnson, 1863. Public domain, Via Wikimedia Commons.

In their book, Psalms, Walter Bruggeman 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 condemns the false shepherds of Israel. God, the true shepherd, will step forward to lead his people, and 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.

Adoration of the Lamb by Jan van Eyck, 1432. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Adoration of the Lamb by Jan van Eyck, 1432. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Revelation 7:9-17: The Revelation to John was composed around 95 AD in a time of intense persecution of Christians under the emperor Domitian. John’s vision was meant to help his readers to stand firm in Christ by assuring them of Christ’s ultimate triumph over evil and death.

In this week’s reading, John sees a great multitude, too many to count, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” They are robed in white and are waving palm branches, symbolizing victory.

John explains who they are: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, they are the martyrs who shared in the Lamb’s victory over evil by being faithful witnesses even in the face of death. Now they are forever before the throne of God, freed from hunger and thirst, and the Lamb himself is their shepherd. “He will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30: Earlier in Chapter 10, Jesus said, “I am the gate,” and “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus’ custom of speaking in metaphor divided the people as to his identity. Just prior to our reading, we learned that many thought he had a demon; others believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They doubted that someone who had a demon could give sight to the blind like Jesus did.

. Landscape with Flock of Sheep by Balthasar Paul Ommeganck, c. 1800. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

. Landscape with Flock of Sheep by Balthasar Paul Ommeganck, c. 1800. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s reading takes place in Jerusalem during the winter festival of Dedication, also known as Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Jesus is walking in the temple when he is asked whether or not he is the Messiah. The Jews wanted Jesus to give them a plain “yes” or “no” answer. Jesus wouldn’t do that. He pointed to the works he did as testimony, and he said that they do not believe because they don’t belong to his sheep. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

This division has continued for 2,000 years. Some recognize Jesus’ voice, follow him, and know that Jesus is one with the Father. Some do not. I pray that Jesus will give sight to those who are spiritually blind.

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