Readings online here.
The Fourth Sunday in Easter celebrates Jesus as “The Good Shepherd.” In the Roman Catacombs one of the earliest paintings of Jesus depicts a beardless youth carrying a lamb on his shoulders.
It’s an appealing picture in some ways. In other ways maybe not. We don’t like to think of ourselves as sheep blindly following whoever leads them, drinking the strychnine-laced Kool-Aid on command.
But John’s Gospel isn’t that simple or sentimental. It likes to mix metaphors. Jesus, the Lamb, the shepherd, the sheep and God are all one, says John’s Gospel (10:27-30, plus 1:29). You can’t snap a picture of that.
If we’re sheep, then so is Jesus, and so is God. If Jesus and God are shepherds, then so are we. We’re to care for the vulnerable by making ourselves vulnerable, the way Jesus does, the way God does. That’s not blindly following a captivating leader. It’s becoming a community of mutual trust and care—and sometimes criticism. It doesn’t sound very efficient. But it’s lively.
A community of mutual trust and care—the Book of Acts tells us that Jesus’ first followers actually tried out of a form of socialism that makes Bernie Sanders look like a moderate: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (2:44-45). Remember Karl Marx? “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” A community of mutual trust and care.
This COVID19 pandemic is breathing new life into that vision. Could it be, as Slovoj Zizek wonders, the end of capitalism as we know it? Beware of making grandiose predictions about the future, and never underestimate the diabolical creativity of corporate greed. Nevertheless, this is a time when that vision looks less like an unrealistic dream and more like an urgent need—a community of mutual trust and care, of self-giving love.
The power of self-giving love is a power none of us can tame. It overturns all our ideas about leaders and followers, about God, about what happens when God’s very life is fleshed out among us in a man who gets himself killed. Self-giving love looks ludicrous. But it stands undefeated. That’s what we keep rediscovering.
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” So is God. And so too are we, those outrageously valued sheep. We all live by the power of self-giving love. Wake up to what he’s saying, rediscover its untamable power, and who knows what might happen next?