The Gospel for Sunday, April 17th, 2016: The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Standing by itself, today’s gospel sounds serene to the point of being superficial. Jesus’s metaphor is so straightforward and simple: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish” (27-28).
Yet in a week when I have given in to numerous temptations, I am in no mood to be compared to a sheep. Do sheep really struggle to follow their shepherd as I do? That voice in me that want to make its own decisions is powerful, angry, and persuasive. If I am a sheep, then I am one angry, bad, black sheep who is stubborn!
I was going to end my reflection by stating how difficult is to be obedient when one feels that way. But then I decided to look at all of John 10. Perhaps I was heeding a wordless call from Jesus and didn’t even know it. What I found changed my attitude dramatically. This passage is not some white-washed poetry to put on a greeting card that makes difficult truths seem unrealistically easy. Jesus says these words to an audience of Jews around the temple who are impatiently interrogating Him as to whether or not He is the Messiah. They ask Him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10: 24).
His answer is not serene, but challenging and dangerous. He answers them with, “I told and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep” (25-26).
It is then that Jesus speaks the “[m]y sheep hear my voice” lines. The tension of that moment is on the edge of violence. Jesus ends his speech with, “The Father and I are one” (30). His audience responds in this way: “The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him” (31).
Jesus knows better than anyone His words are not easy, that to follow Him will require a depth of courage that is less like a sheep and more like the greatest heroes in the history of humanity. If we are to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and challenge those who would publically deny the truth of His divinity. Still, follow we must. Indeed, obey we must, if we are to be saved from a death that will separate us from God’s eternal love. So I am going to re-evaluate my view of being a sheep. Mary was a sheep at the Annunciation when she gave over her life, her body, and her future child to God’s will. Jesus was the ultimate sheep, the sacrificial lamb, who offered His earthly life for the sins of humanity. If I can listen and a follow like a good member of the flock as they did, I am in the best of company.