So far this Easter season, our Sunday Gospels have shown us how the disciples’ encounters with Jesus after his resurrection empowered them to take up his mantle and spread his message of repentance and forgiveness around the world. My midweek post this past week picked up this last theme, exploring the ways we’ve cheapened the idea of repentance in our culture, and how and why we might strengthen it again for the sake of God’s peace. (If you haven’t read the midweek post, I encourage you to do so; I think it’s an important message for our world today.) Today’s New Testament readings both have something to add about this last question, why we should want our repentance and forgiveness to be meaningful, and lived out in actions and not just words.
The Gospel reading comes from John 10:
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
What stuck out to me in reading the passage this week is the focus on investment. Jesus is different from other religious authorities because he is more invested in the people than his rivals are; he has a stake in the game that they don’t. He is like a shepherd who is willing to die to protect the the flock because they are his flock; the Pharisees are just hired hands, who run away at the first sign of trouble because they are more concerned with themselves than with the flock’s health and safety.
And once again, since as Christians, our lives are wrapped up in Jesus’ life, so too is our concern for the safety and health of the flock — the whole flock, united under the one Good Shepherd.
Today’s Epistle reading makes this connection explicitly:
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3.16f)
Just as Jesus’ love led him to die for our lives, so ought our love lead us to lay down our lives for one another. Christian love is not a sentimental feeling or abstract concept, but something real, lived out in the practical concerns of daily life. If one of our flock is hungry, we provide them with pasture. If one of our flock is in danger, we do what we can to keep them safe. The Christian life is not a solitary one; it connects us by its very nature to everyone else. Receiving the grace of God makes us conduits of that grace in and for the world.
This should not be new or exciting theology. It is a basic reality of our faith. And yet, looking around us, it seems so many people who call themselves Christians seem to struggle with it, preferring to focus on their own gain at the expense of others, hoarding pasture for themselves or caring more about the colour of the paint on the fence (or, sadly, even the colour of the sheep) than the health of the flock within it. But this is not the way of Jesus, and so it is not our way as Christians. If we bear the name of Christ, then we must love as he loved, setting aside domination, prestige, riches and safety, for the sake of the flock. And so, it bears repeating today, tomorrow and always: Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.