Fourth Sunday of Easter
How often when we ask a question have we already made up our minds what the answer is going to be? In this Gospel reading, the Jews who asked Jesus to say plainly if he was indeed the Messiah had already worked out in their own minds what the answer to that question was. They had firm ideas about who the Messiah would be, conventional ideas about an earthly king who would throw out the foreign oppressors and restore the kingdom of David. There are two problems with this. First, no earthly kingdom is an adequate reflection of God’s kingdom – even the imagined golden age of the first King David was marked by immorality and all the other blemishes that inevitably accomplish all human endeavors, and second it reveals an attitude of mind which confidently expects God to fit in with our preconceptions, our ideas about what is right and what is wrong. The Jews were convinced in their own minds that this outsider, this man who wasn’t even a proper Rabbi, couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.
There are also dangers for us! If we believe that we are above such ideas, and all we have to do is accept Jesus as the Christ, and that concludes the matter. But the sheep of Jesus are to hear and follow and their actions must speak louder than words. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” [2 Cor 5,17], writes St Paul, and if we are honest with ourselves before God, can we really claim that we have discarded the old nature and put on the new? Because if, in honesty we cannot make that claim for ourselves, in what sense then have we the right to claim that we have recognised Jesus, both who and what he truly is as our shepherd?
When it comes to the crunch, when there is conflict between the standards of Christ and the way of the world, what happens? Every human life is marked with failure and sinfulness: the big question is, what do we do about it? Do we just shrug our shoulders, say we are doing our best and then carry on as before, or do we accept the challenge to turn decisively away from the old life and toward the new and eternal life of Christ?
Jesus tells us that his sheep “hear him and they follow him”. Both are required of the Christian. A readiness to hear the words of the Lord, and words which we know deep down are words that are not simply going to tell us what a splendid job we are making of our lives, but which are going to challenge us to new ways of living, is the start, but only the start. How foolish, how dangerous to our immortal souls, to hear the words of eternal life, and then ignore them. We are called to hear, and then to respond, by following in the steps of the master, and not, like foolish sheep, to think that we know best and that we can therefore go our own way with impunity.
Some of course will scorn the whole idea of Jesus speaking to us, let alone having to obey the voice of a mere man who, the world confidently believes (and hopes?), has been dead for two thousand years, but if we will only stop rushing around, we will then find that Jesus the living Lord speaks to us in a hundred and one different ways, in the circumstances of our lives, in the stillness of our hearts, and much more besides, and that his words are true for our lives. That demands of us a readiness to accept that he really is Messiah, he really is Lord. Mere words are unlikely to convince you of that, and that is why, even in Eastertide, we still need the cross in front of our eyes, the reminder of what man’s rejection of Jesus led him to. Can we look at Jesus on the Cross, and still deny his claim on our lives?
Fr. Edward Bryant