By Father Roger Vermalen-Karban
The readings for Sunday, April 29, 2012, Fourth Sunday of Easter, are
Acts 4:8-12, I John 3:1-2, John 10:11-18.
One of Rudolph Bultmann’s best known quotes is his statement, “After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the preacher became the preached.” We have an example of his process in today’s gospel pericope.
Accustomed to picturing Jesus as the “Good Shepherd,” it’s easy to forget he originally didn’t apply that image to himself. We know from Matthew and Luke that he first employed shepherd metaphors to defend his concern for sinners. “If you shepherds can be preoccupied with one lost sheep, why can’t I be preoccupied with sinners?” He was a carpenter, not a shepherd.
But, by the time John writes — in the mid-90s — Jesus is the shepherd. What he once preached, he has become.
“I am the good shepherd,” he proclaims. “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Scholars presume the risen Jesus is making these claims, not the historical Jesus; the Jesus alive and working in the community for whom John writes. That Jesus has become more than just a preacher of faith; he’s now at the center of faith.
We also see that same process at work in today’s other two readings. Notice, in our Acts passage, how Jesus himself — not just his preaching — is at the center of Peter’s defense. The man he cured was made whole ... “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarine ... There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” The preachers in Acts are preaching Jesus, not just the message Jesus preached.
The author of I John asks us to go one step further. Not only is Jesus important; those who imitate him share in that importance. We, like him, have become “children of God.” And that importance is not only for this world. It gets better in the future. “What we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” One day we also shall be preached!
Yet there are certain things which have to be accomplished before that day arrives. John’s Jesus refers to one of those things. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Accomplishing unity among Christians is, and has been a daunting task.
Though the splits and divisions which originated in the Reformation are still fresh in our historical minds, and evident in the day by day living of our Christian faith, there never has been a period in our 2,000 year history in which all followers of Jesus have been completely one. Many of Paul’s letters highlight the mid-first century divisions between Jewish and Gentile Christians, and the late-first century letters of John presume huge theological chasms are separating some Christian communities from others. As regards unity, our church has never had any “good old days” about which we can reminisce and imitate. There have always been those “other sheep.”
That’s why John always puts the person of Jesus at the center of our faith. Nothing or no one else can unite us. It’s Jesus whom we imitate, Jesus whom we preach. Though many Christian churches can boast of a long tradition of heroic actions and deep faith, if our faith and actions aren’t rooted in the risen Jesus among us, those actions and faith will simply and certainly lead to more divisions among us.
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