easter The Sánchez Archives

Year C

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Leaders and Followers

ACTS 13:14, 43-52
REVELATION 7:9, 14:1-7
JOHN 10:27-30

Whereas television and radio announcers have devised what has come to be known as the “ten-second sound bite” to attract the attention of channel surfers and while the print media uses pithy and powerful headlines to the same advantage, the nation’s roads and highways have also become a popular venue of communication. Bumper stickers with their terse messages are being used to convey political views, school or club affiliations, humorous quips and, unfortunately, even vulgarities. On a recent commute, one sticker in particular grabbed my eye and caused me to consider its frank command: “LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY.” In a sense the scripture readings for today, Good Shepherd Sunday, proffer the same challenge to believers. Christianity admits of no mediocrity; the decision of faith which discipleship demands requires a daily deliberateness and a constantly renewed certainty. Either Jesus and his way of life are accepted and followed or they are rejected. There is no middle path; to live otherwise is to become an obstacle in the way of others.

As Christians, each of us is called to be both a leader and a follower. Ultimately, as John points out in the gospel, our leader is Jesus, the loving shepherd who calls us away from sin and self to union with him and one another. Those who learn to listen to Jesus’ voice in the quiet stillness of prayerful moments as well as in the cries of the poor and needy and, who willingly follow wherever those voices lead, will have eternal life. Those who follow Jesus will, by virtue of their discipleship become witnesses to his way and guides and leaders for others who similarly search for life and love.

When Paul and Barnabas opted to listen to Jesus’ voice and follow him, their decision caused them to travel the same route as their leader. As Luke tells his readers in Acts, like Jesus, they were rebuffed and rejected when they tried to share the good news of salvation. Undaunted and continually fueled by the power of the Spirit, they carried the word of the Lord to whomever would listen and to wherever they received a welcome. Their conviction and commitment led many to follow Christ, not only Jews, but gentiles as well. As the universal scope of God’s saving plan was slowly but surely realized and as the complexion of the Christian community became more and more international, Luke realized that the centuries-old prophecy of Isaiah (49:6) was being fulfilled: “I have made you a light to the nations, a means of salvation to the ends of the earth.”

John, the seer in the excerpted text from Revelation (second reading), encourages his readers with the assurance that every person who has ever followed Christ and led others to him and who, for the sake of Christ has known the suffering of rejection and persecution, will also know the unending joy of victory and a share in everlasting life. For now, those who live in eager anticipation of John’s heavenly vision, are challenged to realize its universal character by accepting one another lovingly and without prejudice and by serving the needs of all others without discrimination.

During the weeks after Easter, the believing community is given ample time and opportunity to do both. Many of our congregations were pleased to welcome new members at the Easter vigil. Inasmuch as these new followers of Christ are warmly received and their time, talents and treasure are readily assimilated into the various parish activities and organizations, John’s vision will become a reality, not only in eternity but also on this side of death’s passage.

As the new and expanded community moves together through this month of May, the church provides it with the admirable leadership of two Johns and Luke. As these early followers of Jesus speak to us through the pages of Acts, Revelation and the fourth gospel, each of us will better understand how to answer the challenge to: LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY.

ACTS 13:14, 43-52

In his excellent book, Speak The Word With boldness (Paulist Press, New York: 1944), Walter J. Burghardt explained that those who proclaim the gospel are, in effect, planting a seed. What seed? The Word of God. Human beings plant the seed with all of their weaknesses and failures and other human beings receive the seed, each with their own blessings and baggage. Remarkably, the seed grows and has continued to grow for some three thousand years, because the great tender and cultivator of the human harvest is none other than God.

In his description of the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, Luke tells his readers that the seed of the gospel was first sown by Jesus among the chosen people of the first covenant, the Jews. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection his earliest adherents modeled their ministries upon his and initiated their preaching in the synagogue of whatever town or city they hoped to evangelize. As Luke Timothy Johnson (Acts of the Apostles, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville: 1992) has noted, the setting for Paul’s discourse at Antioch in Pisidia deliberately mirrors that of Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Luke 4:16-30. Jesus had gone to the synagogue “as was his custom;” Paul and Barnabas followed suit. Readers of Acts will recall that Paul’s following of Jesus led him to plant the seed of the gospel in many different “soils” throughout the then known world. A dedicated minister of the gospel, Paul carefully tended the seeds he had sown with revisits to his converts, letters, messengers and by appointing elders to oversee the workings of each church.

When the seed of the good news could not take root because of what Luke described as jealousy, violent abuse (v. 45) and rejection (v. 46), the disciples began to sow it among the gentiles where it was welcomed with delight, responsiveness and praise for God (v. 48). Notice that Luke underscores the consequences of rejecting Jesus and lays the responsibility for those consequences squarely on the shoulders of those who freely rejected the good news and convicted themselves as unworthy of everlasting life (v. 46). Although there has been a tendency among some scripture scholars to criticize the New Testament authors for what has been called anti-Semitism, this author does not believe that to be Luke’s intent. His comparison of the Jewish rejection of the gospel with the acceptance of it on the part of the gentiles might be better understood as an indication that no obstacle will thwart the growth and development of the seed of the gospel.

Paul’s reference to the instruction of the Lord in verse 47 recalled the mandate that Jesus gave to his own prior to his ascension, viz., “you will be my witnesses. . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This reference, combined with the fact that the apostles performed the symbolic ritual of shaking the dust from their feet (as Jesus had taught them in Luke 10:11) was an even further indication that they were being faithful to the seed of the gospel that Jesus had first sown in them. The mission of the church was indeed a continuation of the ministry of salvation begun by Jesus.

Given this special Lucan emphasis on continuity, contemporary readers of the ancient author might consider: (1) whether their particular ministries bear any resemblance to that of Jesus and (2) whether the missiology of the church is consonant with that of our ancestral brothers and sisters in the faith. Is the seed of the gospel still being sown to the ends of the earth? Are the poor, blind, deaf, lame, hungry, thirsty, lost and imprisoned still the primary focus of our service?

REVELATION 7:9, 14:1-7

During the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. kept alive the hopes of victims of race discrimination by sharing his dreams. “I have a dream”, he would intone before a crowd of thousands, . . . “a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. . . that this desert state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” King’s dream awakened a nation and challenged its people and its legislators to face the inequities being perpetrated against some of its citizens. King’s dream offered consolation, inspired courage and strengthened the committed. Twenty centuries before King, the seer, John, similarly served his contemporaries with his visions.

Like King, John shared his visions with the struggling. During the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 C.E.), Christians were being persecuted for their faith. Denied the right to worship as they wished, they were judged guilty of treason for refusing to venerate Domitian as god. So condemned, they became the prey of one of the fiercest persecutions ever launched against the church. A contemporary of John’s, Clement of Rome described the injustices suffered by those early followers of Christ as “sudden and repeated misfortunes and calamities.” Nevertheless, the church was not without hope. John’s vision of a glorious future in the eternal presence of God and the victorious Lamb of God (Jesus) strengthened his contemporaries in their resolve to remain firm in their faith, undeterred in their baptismal commitment.

Rich in imagery drawn from the Hebrew scriptures, John’s visions promised his readers that the Passover Lamb par excellence would shepherd them, providing them with shelter, protection and eventually, safe passage to the life-giving waters of eternity (Psalms 23; 80; 35:10; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:23; Jeremiah 2:13).

Not only would they survive the great period of persecution but they would, because of Jesus’ saving sacrifice, be clothed in new garments. In the sacred scripture, garments functioned as visual indications of interior attitudes and dispositions. Those who repented and believed in Christ and freely followed his lead were said to have put off the scarlet robes of their sinfulness (Isaiah 1:18); washed in the blood of the lamb, they could put on the white robes of forgiveness, purity and victory over sin.

And just as Martin Luther King’s dream featured the union of diverse people, John’s vision included an innumerable crowd, comprised of both genders and all ages, from every nation, race, culture, and tongue. All had come together around the source of their union and the cause of their salvation, viz., the Lamb, Jesus Christ. During these weeks after Easter, contemporary believers are reminded that King’s dream and the visions of John have yet to be fully realized among all the people of the earth. To that end, we continue to come together, and to serve the needs of all in Jesus’ name.

JOHN 10:27-30

A Christian humorist once told a story about a man who had climbed unto the roof of his home to escape rising flood waters from torrential rains. He prayed to God to act quickly to save him. After a short while, a search and rescue team came and shouted for the man to jump and swim to their boat. He refused, saying that God would take care of him. Later, a helicopter pilot lowered a ladder and beckoned to him to climb up to safety. Again he refused, affirming his reliance on God. Hours passed and, as the sky grew dark and the air cold, the man cried out his distress to God, “I prayed and prayed and I thought you were going to save me!” After a moment of silence, the rooftop refugee heard a voice, “I sent you a team with a boat and a pilot with a helicopter. . . what more do you want?”

Because aid did not come in the manner he expected, the man didn’t recognize his divine rescuer. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries appear to have had a similar experience. He was not the type of savior they had anticipated; therefore they did not recognize him as such, respond to his voice and follow him. However, as the fourth evangelist points out in today’s gospel, those who did hear his voice were promised the gift of eternal life.

An excerpt from the Good Shepherd discourse (John 10), this short pericope represents Jesus’ reply to the Jews who gathered around to hear him teach in Solomon’s Portico. They asked him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). In fact, Jesus had been answering their question and revealing himself as the Messiah through his words and works. But because his contemporaries were looking for a kingly ruler with arms and armies sufficient enough to restore Israel to the power and prestige it had enjoyed during the reigns of David and Solomon, they did not regard him as messianic material. They did not believe; they would not follow his lead.

No doubt, the fact that Hanukkah or the feast of the Dedication was being celebrated exacerbated the situation (John 10:22). An eight day festival of lights held each Chislev (December), Hannukkah memorialized the successful Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids (a Greek dynasty) in 164 B.C.E. Three years earlier, in 167 B.C.E. Antiochus Epiphanes IV had desecrated the Jerusalem temple by placing a statue of Zeus on the altar. The author of Daniel described it as “the abomination of desolation in the holy place” (Daniel 8:13). After routing their oppressors and destroying their idols, the Jews, led by Judas Maccabeus built a new altar and reconsecrated the temple. Thereafter Hanukkah became a feast which celebrated not only the restoration of the temple and its liturgy but also the national heroes of Judah. There is little wonder that this feast also occasioned public excitement and desire for a new Judas Maccabeus to rise up from among them and lead them to victory over the Romans. Jesus, however, was a hero of another ilk. He would indeed, lead a revolt and emerge victorious but it would be a revolt against the forces of evil and a victory over death. Those wishing a share in his victory need only listen to his voice and follow his lead.

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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

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