The season of Easter is a time to explore what it means to be resurrection people, of what it means to belong to and follow the risen Lord. (Easter Four. John 10:1-10; Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; and 1 Peter 2:1-10.) We hear of the abundance of life into which we are invited and the generosity that is asked of us as part of that belonging. It is a rich and challenging mix that runs counter to many of contemporary western assumptions about how life works.
If you desire a more focused reflection of the gospel and Jesus as shepherd than you may like to check out what I wrote last Easter Four Year A.
In the gospel of John we hear that Jesus describes himself as the gate of the sheep fold. We rightly hear that in his body and the sacrifice of his life we enter into the fullness of life. But often we understand this more narrowly than I think was intended. We are sometimes distracted into thinking that this refers exclusively to his sacrificial death for us on the cross and that this image is about a theological gate keeping that lets people with the right theology in and keeps everyone else out! I think that is not only much too narrow understanding (and convenient for some), I also think it is wrong. A first century shepherd slept in the doorway or gate to protect the sheep with his body so that no one could come in and harm them without his knowledge and his intention was to protect. It is an image of great care and sacrificial protection. But not necessarily an image of keeping anyone (but wolves – certainly not other sheep) out! In the synoptic gospels we are told Jesus calls upon us to take up our cross and follow. And in John’s gospel Jesus reminds us that we are to do the works of Jesus and we will with the holy spirit be able to do even more than he. It is not simply Jesus doing the work of salvation for us so that we can relax behind closed doors and on the right side of the gate in isolated communities!! It is a sacrificial and generous caring way of living that we are called into as well.
The life and acts of the early apostles and followers, even in the first weeks and months of the movement of the people of the resurrected Lord, is clearly one in which the abundance of life only made sense in terms of being shared so that all could have their needs met and be supported in their faith and ministry. This very inconvenient understanding of how abundance works is not included in much of what is called abundance theology probably because it is so contrary to how western society works. Religious orders and small groups of faithful have over the centuries sought to live more communally and simply with varying degrees of harmony and success. The task however remains for all of us to live into the promise and challenge of communal abundance however we resolve issues of personal ownership.
And the epistle of Peter disturbs and challenges with his argument that suffering when we do not “deserve” to be somehow holy. This can be read in a way I think unhealthy – that it is desirable to suffer for it is somehow earning us points with God. Rather I think the people, who were already being faced with martyrdom, are being called to the depth and breadth of the same compassion that Jesus showed from the cross: “when he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” The same generosity and hopefulness that the apostles and followers were called into in sharing their wealth is at work in compassion and hopefulness that does not repay cruelty with more cruelty, pain with pain.
So how do all these points from quite different readings hold together in a theology of resurrection, in a philosophy of community, for those of us who proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and believe that we are personally called into the community of the risen Lord?
Firstly we are being reminded that we gather around one whose life, suffering, death and resurrection was saving, was life giving: that all that Jesus experienced, taught, did brought the love of God into every crevasse of the human condition and in his resurrection we are invited into life and love abundant and without limit. We are also being shown by the early apostles and followers of the resurrected one that we are called into a new way of living that is more trusting and generous. This way of life is for us as individuals but can only really be realised in community. We are called into communities with others who also follow the risen one and we are called to share what we have with others so that we might all live abundantly and serve the needs of those who belong and think as we do and for the benefit also of those who do not belong and think as we do. We are also called to live in such a compassionate hopeful way that whoever we encounter and whatever happens we live out of the loving energy of our risen Lord. The challenge to understand this and to enact it will keep me growing and letting go and growing some more all the days of my life.
Even so, come risen Lord Jesus Christ, and so fill me with your resurrection energy that I and we may continue to grow in love and generosity, hopefulness and compassion.