Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, year C
texts: John 10:22-30; Psalm 23; Acts 9:36-43
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Jesus used this figure of speech with them but they didn’t understand what he was saying.”
That’s John’s earlier comment (10:6), after Jesus first calls himself the Good Shepherd. Even though his hearers were more confused than enlightened, he kept at this image, risking more confusion by even calling himself the gate of the sheepfold.
We see why some reached the end of their patience today. “Tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?”, they said. Enough with the confusing words: if we follow you will we find life with God?
That’s our question. We already know Christ’s path is hard. Jesus calls us to a life of sacrificial love, following his lead. This will change our lives a lot. How do we know Jesus is leading us to life?
Today we sing an ancient song of faith we love dearly, the 23rd Psalm. But do we know enough to trust Christ Jesus and sing this hymn confidently as we walk through life? We sometimes wish we had more clarity. More understanding.
But what if that’s not offered?
It’s encouraging we’re not the only ones confused by this shepherd thing.
Even people living in Jesus’ time had difficulty, apparently. You’re a shepherd, we’re sheep? Not people? What?
We can know all we want about sheep and still wonder what Jesus is talking about. Fine, sheep are dumb, they need constant guidance, we’ve heard it all. Bottom line, we still need to know if we trust Jesus is the right guide for us.
But in answer today Jesus goes right back to shepherd-sheep language, implying that if we were his sheep we would have faith. How is that helpful?
The problem is deeper than a confusing metaphor.
Is Jesus trustworthy to be our Messiah, to be life for us? In John’s Gospel especially he makes these huge claims that, if true, are the best news we could know. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” But what if we still have questions?
Questions about pain and suffering. About God’s will and desire for us. About life and death.
The last two weeks we’ve heard John tell us that what he’s written is given us so we can believe, and in believing have life in Christ’s name. But what if, even after reading John, and the other Gospels, we still don’t understand? Even today’s story about Tabitha, a beautiful, hopeful story, only heightens our anxiety. None of us have seen such a thing happen. So if we can’t expect such miracles in our lives, what then?
If we can’t trust Christ, why would we want to take his hard path?
What about Jesus’ answer to our friends today? Could it be helpful?
When they asked him to speak plainly, Jesus tells them that, in a way, he already has. Look at my works, he says. They are my testimony.
If he means the healings he does, or even the healings some of his disciples did, like Peter today, what are we to do with that? We’re afraid even to ask for healing from God because we’ve convinced ourselves the chance of a miracle is slim, and don’t want to get our hopes up.
But is Jesus talking about more? What if he means us to look at everything he is? Then we see something worth seeing. We see someone who lived, breathed, and taught the unconditional love of God for us and all people. Who uncompromisingly stood with people the world discarded, people whose failures were beyond what “good” people could tolerate. Who reached out in love and compassion to all who were in pain, outcast, neglected. That’s who invites us.
And there’s more. If Jesus’ works are testimony, we’ve just seen the heart of that witness. Our journey to the cross with Jesus, leading to the empty tomb we celebrate this Easter season testifies to us: Christ Jesus is the embodied Love of God that cannot be killed by death. That’s who invites us to follow the hard path of love of God and neighbor.
And that invitation doesn’t include understanding everything.
We’re conditioned to want the answer to everything. We’re frustrated whenever we’re told something is complicated, whether it’s our doctor, or honest political leaders, or friends. But this world rarely has black and white answers that end all our questions, and we rarely have the clarity we’d like.
What if that’s just reality? If Christ Jesus is the Son of God, who gives the world life, he won’t be able to answer everything for us. It’s not how the world works. Explaining everything is impossible.
But if we really look at Jesus’ works, like he tells us today, we see something encouraging. He often doesn’t give the understanding we seek. But he’s always willing to have us ask anyway. He never turns away a questioner. He usually answers with, “follow me.” But our Lord is willing to hear questions in love and care.
And that’s what this path can be when we walk it singing David’s hymn on our lips and in our hearts.
We sing, “The LORD is our shepherd, we have all we need.” Even with questions about how God provides, we follow the only One who can lead and guide us to fresh water and green pastures, and show us how to help others find the same.
We sing about our Shepherd’s hard path because we trust the One we follow. It’s a path of righteousness and goodness, and even though we have questions and fears, the One who brings life out of death is our guide.
And we sing even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that we fear no evil. We’re frightened of death and all that causes the world pain; we have questions. But we’re not alone, and that’s better than having all the answers, or every miracle we seek. Whatever happens, we are walking with our risen Shepherd on this path. That’s all we need.
Understanding everything doesn’t matter if we trust the One we follow.
We don’t need all the answers if we’re walking with God’s Answer. We are invited to find faith in the life Christ is for us and the world. Not faith based on knowing everything. Faith in Christ, trust that he is, in fact, our Good Shepherd, and there’s nothing else we need.
That’s the step before us. And it’s OK if we take baby steps. One tiny step of faith today is enough. We’re on the path, then. And it’s OK if we hold hands. We’ve got each other to help watch the road, to pick us up, to encourage us.
And to help us see the One we’re following.
If we’ve still got questions, well, it’s a long road. We’ve got time. And our Lord’s a good listener. We can keep asking while we follow. We might even learn some things. After all, sheep don’t have to forever remain clueless.
In the name of Jesus. Amen