The fundamental question of the Easter season is, How does the movement begun by the earthly Jesus continue after his resurrection? Today’s excerpt from Jesus’ discourse in John 10, known as the Good Shepherd discourse, provides the beginning of an answer. It reminds us that our personal and communal relationship with the risen Lord is a response to the call of the Good Shepherd and the beginning of eternal life for us. This relationship means that we belong to the Good Shepherd and his heavenly Father. That makes us important.
Our relationship with the Good Shepherd is both individual and communal. Each of us hears his call, but we do so as a flock. Having heard his call, we believe that the risen Jesus is alive and that his Spirit remains among us. We come into contact with the risen Jesus in prayer, the sacraments and our experience of daily life. That relationship has been initiated and generated by the risen Lord. He calls, and we hear his voice. The Good Shepherd knows us, and we follow him.
Having heeded the Good’s Shepherd’s call, we can look forward to eternal life with him. For us eternal life has already begun, and no one can take that from us except ourselves. And because we belong to the Good Shepherd, we have a relationship with God the creator and sustainer of the universe. What makes us important is not who we are or what we do or what we possess, but rather whose we are. Through Jesus the Good Shepherd we now belong to his heavenly Father.
One of the most striking images for the risen Jesus in the book of Revelation is “the Lamb that was slain.” Today’s picture of those who had passed through “the great tribulation” contains two striking developments of that image. The robes of the triumphant martyrs have been made white (paradoxically) by “the blood of the Lamb.” That is, through Jesus’ death on the cross they too have conquered death and now share eternal life with God and the Lamb. Moreover, in their eternal life it is (paradoxically) the Lamb (the risen Christ) who now leads the flock. In a striking reversal of roles, the slain Lamb has become the Good Shepherd.
The movement begun by Jesus prospered and expanded through the efforts of apostles like Paul and Barnabas. According to Acts 13, the apostles—Jewish themselves—found the fullness of their Jewish heritage in the movement started by the earthly Jesus and continued after his death and resurrection. And so their first instinct was to share their faith with fellow Jews by going to the local synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia (in central present-day Turkey). Meeting both success and failure among their fellow Jews, the apostles resolved to bring the good news to non-Jews and had even greater success among them. An analogous challenge facing the church in the 21st century is to develop more perfectly into a world church that respects, embraces and nurtures all those who have heeded the call of the Good Shepherd.