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May 03, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Today’s gospel reading actually starts back at the beginning of chapter 9, in the story of the man who was born blind – which we read during Lent. The part of that story we read today is a continuation of Jesus’ speech to the Pharisees and the people who drove the man out of the temple after he received his sight.
When you have some time, I invite you to read chapters 9 and 10 in one sitting, because the story is more cohesive when you read it all together.
When Jesus gave the man his sight, his identity changed, and there wasn’t any reason that he had to be apart from the community anymore. But everyone who knew him before, didn’t know what to do with that, so they cast him out.
So Jesus went to look for him, and when he found him, the man confessed his faith as a true disciple. He became one of the sheep that knows the shepherd’s voice.
When Jesus first identified himself as the true shepherd, the people listening didn’t get it. So he tried again to explain his relationship to those who follow him. A shepherd and a gate seem to mean two different things; but the image of Jesus as the gate actually clarifies the image of the shepherd, because it’s part of what a shepherd is and does.
In Biblical times, and in some parts of the world today, when sheep are kept out in the pasture overnight, they’re put into an enclosure that’s usually constructed of a low rock wall that surrounds them and only has one opening for coming in and going out. Barbed branches and thorns are placed along the top of the wall to keep predators from climbing over.
And in the enclosures where there’s no actual physical gate, the shepherd himself lies down in the opening where a gate would normally be. By doing this, the shepherd knows who or what comes and goes; he watches for predators and keeps them out, and in this way he serves as protector of the sheep.
The shepherd has the well-being of the sheep at heart, rather than his own; and the sheep depend on the shepherd for their lives. He holds them in the pen for safety and protection, and lets them out into the pasture for nourishment.
And when he lets them out, he doesn’t just turn them loose and leave them on their own. He goes ahead of them and leads them, and they follow because they know him and they trust him. The sheep have no reason to fear, because the shepherd stays there with them.
The image of Jesus as the gate and shepherd speaks to the relationship of deep trust that he has with those who follow him. It reminds us that life in and with Jesus is more than just going out for nourishment and coming back in at the end of the day. It’s more than just surviving or getting by with the minimum.
Jesus came not just to give life, but life in abundance. He came to give us life that lets us flourish and thrive and experience joy. And he doesn’t want that life for just a select few, he wants it for everyone.
There are so many things and people in our world today that try to promise us the level of abundance that only Jesus can provide. Especially now when people are chomping at the bit for everything to reopen.
Those are the thieves and the bandits we deal with today. They want us to believe that we’ve done enough, and that everything will be okay if we just go back to the way things were. But if we’ve learned anything in these past couple of months, it’s that everything wasn’t okay before and not everyone experienced life in abundance.
And that going back to that way of being and living will cause harm and ultimately leave us feeling empty. Because life that is truly abundant can’t be bought with money or owned like material possessions; and it isn’t something that can be earned or achieved through hard work.
Abundant life is a life lived in and through Christ. It’s a life lived in honest relationship with Jesus – knowing that he knows our flaws and our fears and loves us enough to walk through them with us.
It’s a life that trusts the sheer gift of God’s love for us. It’s a life that goes beyond surviving and lets us flourish, and thrive and experience joy. It’s a life that trusts that when we live this way, there’s abundance for everyone.
And this isn’t only a collective abundance, Jesus brings it to us in ways that directly affect our individual lives.
For the man who was born blind, abundant life was sight, and freedom from isolation and marginalization, and knowing the safety and security of community.
For the person who has to work just to survive, abundant life is having breathing space and time to rest. For the medical personnel working in these times, abundant life is freedom from worry about getting sick.
For the person struggling with their identity, abundant life is freely living as the person God created them to be. For the person who’s caught in an abusive relationship, it’s having the courage to leave and get to a safe place, and taking the necessary steps toward being whole.
For the person who battles addiction, it’s being with others who understand the pressure of demons constantly hovering. For the person who was betrayed, it’s the ability to move through the pain and stand tall on the other side of it.
Whatever it looks like for you, abundant life in Jesus is life that opposes the things and people that seek to rob us of the life and joy that God wants for us. It’s the response that allows us to freely experience life in Jesus and God’s love for us today, and to believe that it’s ours.
Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. God wants abundant life for us, and nothing less than that. It’s okay to believe that and to trust it.
When we do, when we live our lives believing that all of this is true, it opens our eyes and our hearts to the people around us, and to the things that are robbing them of this life. And it allows us to stand together with them so that they, too, can have the abundant life that Jesus promises and brings to us.
Jesus came to give life that goes beyond surviving to all people. He came to give life that stands up to the things and people that seek to rob us of the abundant life and joy that God wants for us. He came to give life that lets us flourish and thrive – and freely experience today God’s love for us. Thanks be to God! Amen.