Sermons for the Christian Year 339 bring home the sheep that had been lost, crippled or killed by predators to prove he hadn’t killed it himself for personal gain. So the good shepherd isn’t really what society expected. A good shepherd was a bit like a selfless tax collector or a flexible Pharisee: someone whom people simply didn’t expect to meet.
Because the shepherd would be held to account for his flock’s life and welfare, when wild animals came prowling he might wield his staff to protect them. But he wouldn’t be expected to put his life on the line. With the good shepherd it’s different. In Peter’s first letter the shepherd is nothing less than the guardian of souls, who preserves those souls and carries them intact even through death. The good shepherd becomes the lamb for sacrifice, exposing himself to abuse, suffering and even death, in order to lead those souls safely through the dark valley.
In his Gospel, John shows us with real clarity how Christ, because he does these things, becomes the sacrificial lamb. Christ’s crucifixion fulfils the requirements of the Jewish
Passover sacrifice of a lamb. On the cross, no bone of Christ’s body is broken and his blood is shed and scattered. Christ’s body is removed from the cross before morning (Jn 19.31-34; see
Ex. 12.7,10,46). The sponge soaked in wine vinegar, which Christ is offered to drink, is raised on a stem of hyssop, which was the plant used to spread the blood of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12.22). The paschal lamb was, like Christ, also pierced—with a shaft of pomegranate wood, which became a spit for roasting. In John’s account, the crucifixion seems to have happened at the time of the lamb sacrifice in the Temple.
These elements give a painfully concrete reality to John’s description of Christ as the lamb of God. They’ve been developed in some early
Latin hymns for Easter, in which Christ is the ‘innocent lamb killed and roasted on the altar of the cross’, and ‘hung on the spit of the cross and roasted by the fire of love and sorrow’.
What we hear today are stories of shared living that are richer and more relevant than any surrender of personal identity to the group.
In most countries, communism has thankfully collapsed and we shouldn’t try to bring it back. What we as Christians are called to is lives responsive to the needs of others near and far. We need safe homes, but should also hear
Christ’s call to leave them to work in the world, where he also provides for us. And Christ walks before us, leading us because we have a natural bond with him. We are his property, bought back by him from death and sin into new life.
This is the true, radical image of ownership held up for us today: one that takes seriously the bonds, responsibilities and dependencies that ownership brings. We aren’t just nameless units in a larger mass, but live in networks of relationships and obligations in which we both give and receive. We have special others, caring for them and holding possessions in trust for their welfare and also our own. Ultimately, we’re called to model our ownership of things in the world on Christ’s ownership of us, which is committed, caring and generous. 18th May: 5th Sunday of Easter
Yes, the Way
St Anne’s Parish, Annapolis, Maryland
While my husband and I were in seminary, our field education church was in Bucks County,
Pennsylvania. It’s a beautiful part of the United
States with rolling hills, old stone farm houses, quaint little towns, covered bridges, many picture postcard views. It was also a place that was at Purdue University on June 24, 2015ext.sagepub.comDownloaded from 340 The Expository Times 125(7) growing like crazy. Lots of new housing developments were being built and many people were moving into the area. One of the parishioners there, a real estate agent, said, “Everyone always wants to be the last person to move into a place like this.”
Once when I was visiting Chicago I saw a billboard that said, “If it weren’t for the winter, everyone would want to live here.”
When it comes to real estate, people seem to want to keep the best locations a secret.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus speak about heavenly real estate, about his Father’s house, with many mansions, a place that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for us. It is a message of reassurance for Jesus’ disciples, that even though he wouldn’t be with them on earth much longer, he was going ahead to prepare a wonderful home where they would be with him always.
The disciples, as so often happens, don’t quite get what Jesus is talking about. They want a road map to get to this great piece of property. So
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And then Jesus says the words that cause many thoughtful Christians deep anxiety: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Some of the questions I have been asked many times during my ordained ministry are about this passage: What does it mean? Does it mean
Christianity is the only way to get to heaven? Does it mean Christians have the true understanding of who God is? Are there many paths? Or only one?
And if there is only one, what about all the people who belong to the world’s other great faith traditions? If we say Jesus is the way, are we also saying those who adhere to the other great religions of the world are beyond the reach of God, outside the love of God, beyond the salvation of God? “What about the others?” is a very good question, especially for us at this time, when we meet people from a diversity of religious backgrounds in a way that just wasn’t possible at any other point in history. But “what about the others?” was not the question Jesus was trying to answer.
This passage was written down to bring comfort to a group of Christians struggling to maintain their identity and mission around the close of the first century C.E. Many scholars believe that by the time these words are recorded those who follow Jesus are finding themselves being closed off from some important relationships. Originally,