|The Sánchez Archives
FOURTH SUNDAY OF
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez
Jesus Christ, Stone, Son, Shepherd
1 JOHN 3:1-2
All of scripture is replete with concrete, palpable, sensible images which readily communicate even the most abstract and transcendental realities. The biblical authors did not think of God or communicate the great truths of the faith and spirituality in philosophical terms; they spoke and wrote and shared their experiences of God with verbal pictures that literally leap off the page to create a lasting impression. Because of their bold and daring anthropomorphisms, the God of the two testaments comes alive. God speaks with human words; God hears the cries of the people. . . God sees the plight of the poor. . . God listens and cares. . . God wipes away the tears of the mournful. . . God stretches out a mighty arm and leads the enslaved to freedom (Exodus 35). . . my name and your name are written on the palms of Gods hands (Isaiah 49:16). . . God holds us like a mother holds a baby to her cheek and teaches us to walk (Hosea 11:3-4). . . God bears us up on eagles wings (Exodus 19:4). . . God chooses to be partnered with humanity (Genesis 17). . . God loves with an everlasting love. . . As John L. McKenzie once explained, The reality of Gods involvement in human history cannot be doubted. In prayer, the speech of the Old Testament attains through anthropomorphism an intimacy and an urgency that are scarcely paralleled elsewhere and cannot be achieved in any other way. The risk of humanizing God is accepted in order that the danger of thinking of him as an abstraction or an impersonal force may be avoided (Aspects of Old Testament Thought, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs NJ: 1990).
In the New Testament, anthropomorphism yields to realism in the person of Jesus, the very Word of God in flesh and blood. Nevertheless, the early Christian authors continued to use graphic language (as did Jesus himself) to explain and interpret Gods saving plan for humankind.
In the first reading, Gods purpose was described by Luke in architectural terms. Jesus had been sent by God to be the cornerstone or capstone of the spiritual edifice of the kingdom. Cornerstone, or kephale gonias in Greek, is more correctly rendered as the head of a corner; it was this stone which joined the two sides of a Romanesque arch. Set last, this coping stone maintained structural balance; without it the building toppled. With these vivid images, Luke emphasized the centrality and necessity of Jesus in the divine economy of salvation. Rejected by humankind, Jesus is nevertheless the new coping stone of the eschatological community (Reginald Fuller, Preaching the New Lectionary, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN: 1974).
The Johannine author in the gospel shifts our attention away from an architectural motif to an agricultural one. In order to communicate the constancy of Gods love and concern for humankind, the evangelist offers believers a pastoral scene. Therein, the good shepherd who knows and cares for the sheep pledges to do so even at the cost of his own life.
Then, with imagery even more compelling and poignant, the author of 1 John reminds his readers that we are more than stones built upon the cornerstone of Jesus. . . we have been called to greater intimacy than that of sheep with their shepherd. We have been invited by God to share the relationship of a beloved child with a loving Mother-Father-God.
With words, images and realities like these to sustain us, we continue to explore the ramifications of our faith and the cost of discipleship.
Peters bold words before the leaders of the people, as presented in todays first reading, were delivered under duress. For teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead (Acts 4:2), Peter and Paul had been confronted by the priests, captain of the temple guards and Sadducees. Taken into custody, they were held overnight and summoned before the Sanhedrin the next day. Upon being questioned, By what power or by what name have you done this? (Acts 4:7), Peter responded with the speech that constitutes todays first reading.
Like Jesus before him, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, had restored a cripple to full physical health. Then, like Jesus, Peter used the visible fact of the healing to proclaim an even greater piece of good news, viz., that it was by the power of Jesus name that the man had become whole and that it was also through the power of Jesus that holiness or salvation is given to the world. By using derivatives of the same Greek verb, sothenai, Luke underscored the affinity between the healing of the man and what it signified for humankind, viz., salvation (v. 12).
Peters quote of Psalm 117:22 as a description of Jesus sent a clear message to the recognized leaders of the people. If they would truly lead the people, they should be the first to recognize and accept what God has done in Jesus. From this point onward in Acts, the leadership of the new edifice that claims Jesus as its cornerstone will shift. The Twelve will become the effective and accepted leaders of the people of God. Luke presents Peter as the first among those leaders, and spokesperson for the Twelve, preaching the message of truth.
If the speeches of Peter and Paul as presented by Luke in Acts seem repetitive, there is a simple explanation for this --they are. As each dramatic episode unfolds in Acts, the speech, which is usually its centerpiece, functions as a vehicle for Lucan theology. Within the medium of the speeches and through the voices of the recognized leaders of the early church, Luke sustains an ongoing dialog between himself and his readers. In the course of this continuing dialog, Luke is able to return again and again to the basic kerygma, viz., God sent Jesus as Savior to the world. Rejected by humankind and crucified for human sin, Jesus has been raised by God. Those who believe in him will be saved.
By means of the more than twenty speeches in Acts, Luke is able: (1) to appeal again and again for the conversion in mind and heart of his readers; (2) to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit as guide and mentor of the church; (3) to trace the growth and evolving missiology of the merging church; (4) to underscore the universal scope of Gods saving plan as perceived and perpetuated by the church.
Richard J. Dillon has explained that the popularity of speeches as historio-graphical devices is well documented in Hellenistic literature, notably in works of the Jewish tradition (1-3 Maccabees, Josephus). The speeches in Acts all have Luke as their author and his readers as their audience; whether the audience on the scene would have grasped the argument is often beside the point, e.g. 17:22-31! (Acts of the Apostles, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Englewwod Cliffs NJ: 1990).
Therefore, as the intended recipients of Peters speech in the first reading, contemporary believers are challenged by Luke, not to condemn the Jewish leaders for their negative reaction to Jesus, but to search themselves for any such lingering traces of resistance to or rejection of the good news. Once the search is underway, Lukes readers are also reminded that authentic holiness and wholeness are to be found in Jesus, the cornerstone of our salvation.
1 JOHN 3:1-2
Throughout the rich corpus of Johannine literature, readers can trace a gradual and progressive development in the relationship to which believers are called by God. First, ordinary men and women were invited to come and see and stay with Jesus (John 1:39). Gradually, the merely curious became believing followers and remained in Jesus company, traveling with him and being discipled by him (John 2:22). In the course of their developing relationship, the disciples also became companions of Jesus. As companions (from the Latin cum panis which means with bread) the disciples were fed by Jesus with loaves and fish as well as the bread of his teaching and the very bread of his life. With images drawn from the world about them, the Johannine Jesus described the loyalty and unity that should characterize his own. Like sheep to a shepherd, they were precious to him (John 10); like branches on a vine, was their solidarity (John 15:1-7). As disciples and companions, those with Jesus were taught to be the servants of one another and of all others (John 13). Shortly before his death, Jesus assured his disciples that they had become his beloved friends (John 15:11-17). Following his resurrection and sustained by the teachings of Jesus as remembered, interpreted and preserved in the fourth gospel, the Johannine community grew to understand that they were indeed the very children of God. It is this understanding which is enunciated and celebrated in todays second reading.
As Beverly Roberts Gaventa (Proclamation, Easter, Fortress Press, Minneapolis MN: 1996) observes, It is one thing to be reminded that we are Gods creatures. . . it is another thing, however, to be called Gods child, a member of Gods own family. . . A daughter or a son belongs within the family home, cherished at birth, nurtured and nourished, provided for in difficult times (loved even during adolescence!)
Given the fact that believers are privileged to be Gods children, the author of 1 John cites some consequences of that special relationship. First, the world that refused to recognize Jesus as Gods Son will not acknowledge or accept those who regard him as their elder brother in the Lord (v. 1). Gods children will necessarily be in the world but not of it and as such will remain a counter culture which continually challenges the world and its values to become transformed by Christ.
Second, the parent-child relationship which believers share with God is still evolving. We are Gods children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light (v. 2a). As Raymond E. Brown (The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible, Vol. 30, Doubleday and Co. Inc., New York: 1982) explains, Here the author is remarkably subtle in combining Johannine realized eschatology with a future eschatology that he wants to hold out to his adherents as an incentive. Whereas the secessionists regarded themselves as already perfect by virtue of their initial contact with Christ, the author of 1 John and his adherents regarded perfection as an ongoing and dynamic process. If Jesus as Gods Son will be fully revealed only at his second coming, and if the brothers and sisters of Jesus are to be like him (v. 2b), then what we shall become has yet come to light. To put it perhaps a little too simply, the author of 1 John is stirring within his readers a hope that cries out with joy. . . all this and heaven too!
While most of us probably may not own sheep or have any experience at the harsh and demanding life-style of a shepherd, many of us have firsthand knowledge of the difference between hired hands and the owner of a particular operation. As regards attitude and motivation, the owner has a vested interest and will protect that interest at all costs. Part time or hourly wage earners, who do not share the owners sense of responsibility may be less interested and/or devoted. When push comes to shove and when conflicts arise it will be the owner and not the clock-watcher who knows what needs to be done and will make every possible effort to do so.
As the Johannine evangelist points out in todays gospel, believers can depend on the pastoral care and leadership of Jesus; as the good or model shepherd, he has claimed for his own those whom the Father has given him. Working out of love and not for pay (v. 13), Jesus concern is perduring even unto death (vs. 11, 15, 17-18).
In his pastoral portrayal the Johannine Jesus is described in terms which had been ascribed to Yahweh in the Hebrew scriptures (Psalm 23:1-4; 80:1; Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Micah 7:14). The sixth century B.C.E. prophet Ezekiel had offered a similar comparison by contrasting the shoddy care with which Israels kings shepherded the people entrusted to them, as opposed to the loving, doting care which God, the good and true shepherd, would lavish on all, even the lost, the strayed and the sick (Ezekiel 34). Jesus penchant for the wayward was evident throughout his earthly ministry; in him all of Ezekiels promises about Yahwehs pastoral care were realized.
Jesus knowledge of his sheep and they of him (v. 14) springs from the intimate relationship they share, as intimate and binding as that which Jesus shares with the Father (v. 15). From this special knowing comes an obedience that listens to Jesus voice, hears and keeps his commandments and follows his lead. Just as the ancient near eastern shepherd would walk ahead of his/her sheep, scouting the path and blazing the trail, so also would Jesus go ahead of his own, first to die, then to rise and thereby set the pattern for redemption and discipleship.
He is the true and good shepherd not merely a herder of the masses. Roland Faley (Footprints on the Mountain, Paulist Press, New York: 1994) correctly suggests that the distinction between shepherding and herding should be noted. Herding conjures up images of coercion and restriction, whereas shepherding requires careful, personal attentiveness to individual needs.
Jesus reference to other sheep and to one flock (v. 16) underscores the universality and unity which are to characterize the community of believers. In Jesus day, the other sheep probably referred to the poor, the tax collectors and sinners who were generally considered on the fringe, if not ostracized by society. For the early church, the other sheep may have been the gentiles and others who had yet to hear the good news. Believers on the brink of the third millenium are challenged to examine whom they regard as those other sheep. Is it those of different faiths? different denominations? different races, cultures or classes? Then, we are to remember the words of this gospel. . . there shall be one flock, one shepherd.
[NOTE TO USERS: This archive is available for use without charge, but it remains the property of the author and under copyright with Celebrations Publications. Users are permitted to print individual Sunday commentaries for pastoral use, but are prohibited from downloading or copying files or printing any portion of this for sale or distribution.]
e-mail the Celebration editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.
The National Catholic
Reporter Publishing Company
115 E. Armour Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64111