Easter 4 A

So many footnotes! And on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we're challenged, rather than comforted, because this cycle, we don't get Jesus, the good shepherd, but Jesus, the gate. Oh, and a Luther rant that bishops aren't the church.

Acts 2:42-47

Verses 42 and 46 are cited in a footnote to Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 22: Concerning Both Kinds in the Lord's Supper (AP 22.7, n. 459) as examples from the Confutation where the phrase, "breaking of bread," is taken too literally as reference to communion using just bread. This is in the same section as last week's Luke 24:35 reading.

John 10:1-10

Verse 3 comes up in two footnotes of Smalcald Articles (SA Preface.10, n. 13, and SA 3.12.2, n. 164) as citation for the allusion to Christians as sheep hearing the voice of Jesus. The first instance is Luther ranting against the bishops of his time who cared little for the ordinary lives of poor people, "people for whom Christ died. And should not these people hear this same Christ speak to them as the true shepherd with his sheep?" (SA Preface.10).

The second citation is in another Luther rant where he just flat out tells the bishops, "they are not the church" (SA 3.12.1.)! The church is those who hear the voice of the shepherd (here's the allusion to John 10:3).

[Jesus said,] "the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."  --John 10:4b-5

Verses 4b-5 are alluded and cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Introduction (FC SD.Intro.14) as part of the rational for listing out false teachings in each section of the Solid Declaration. By listing false teachings, pastors and other leaders of the church might help Christians identify the false teachings so they "might flee from other voices."

[Jesus said,] "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." -- John 10:9

Verse 9 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.66) as evidence that "the Father decided from eternity that those whom he wanted to save, he wiled to save through Christ." This exclusive language can strike us as very judgmental, but what the Lutheran reformers were trying to describe is how God saves us. If the gospel is indeed good news for us, then we join in God's saving action and tell others, for "The Father wills that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Christ" (SD 11.68).

TheoThru

In a culture of too many choices, exclusivity can be hard to accept. The idea of there being many paths up the mountain when it comes to faith seems open and inviting, but that makes Jesus into a way, not The Way. If we believe Jesus, then Jesus is the mountain, not merely a way up the mountain. This destroys the openness of the mountain metaphor by insisting that all other faiths are actually about Jesus. If we insist that Jesus is only a way, then why ever bother to tell anyone about the gospel? The mountain metaphor is problematic because the meaning of the metaphor changes depending on what the mountain is.

It is worth remembering that this passage comes right after the Pharisees' reaction to the conclusion of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9, which we read in Lent). The Good Shepherd passages are in response to the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders who took advantage of faithful people--stealing, killing, and destroying God's flock. This exclusive metaphor of Jesus as the gate is a call to religious leaders to take stock of how we are leading God's people--are we thieves or are we pointing them to the gate? Are we strangers, causing God's people to run away?

  • How do we who are in positions of leadership in the church keep ourselves centered in the gospel to avoid becoming thieves and strangers?
  • How can we hear the exclusivity of Jesus as the gate as good news?