Calling by Name

Calling by Name

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2023

Calling by Name

Homily for April 30, 2023
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:1–10

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is commonly called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because each year today’s readings focus on Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Always today our Psalm is Psalm 23, and always today our Gospel is from John chapter 10, the chapter in which John tells of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Though the passage about Jesus the Good Shepherd is at the center, the exact center, of St. John’s Gospel—by his very text itself John creates a “sheepfold” safe in the middle of his Gospel—yet John being John, of course today’s text reverberates and has connections throughout John’s Gospel.  For example in chapter 1, though Jesus is the Good Shepherd, John also calls him the “Lamb of God who take away the sins of the world” (1:29).  Further in chapter 1, even though John may call Jesus the Lamb, yet Jesus is also already the Shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name” (10:3)—for John writes that Jesus looked at Peter and said, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Cephas” (1:42).  Though this passage about Jesus the Good Shepherd may be at the center of his Gospel, yet the passage reverberates throughout John’s Gospel.

Perhaps the most striking reverberation in John’s Gospel of Jesus the Good Shepherd is Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene in chapter 20.  John writes,

[Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  (20:14–16)

Recall this morning’s Gospel in which Jesus “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  Here Jesus the Good Shepherd called Mary by name, and Mary, the sheep, recognized her Shepherd’s voice: “Rabbouni,” she said.  And recall again in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus said, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow.”  Perhaps Mary tried to follow, because as soon as she recognized him, Jesus said: “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  And perhaps Jesus, when he says, “I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God” (20:17) is being the Good Shepherd who “goes ahead of them” (see also 16:1–24), and he trusts that his sheep will eventually follow because they—as we heard in this morning’s Gospel—“know his voice.”

By his placement of the passages about Jesus the Good Shepherd in the exact center of his Gospel, John communicates the safety, the security, that is ours when Jesus is our Shepherd.  By echoing the Good Shepherd already in his first chapter, John suggests that from the beginning Jesus like a shepherd has sought us out and has called us, inviting us into his flock.  By carrying images of the Good Shepherd throughout his Gospel, John suggests that Jesus is with us through all our days: that he is always with us, will never leave us, and that he will see us through to our end.  And by concluding in his Gospel with images of the Good Shepherd, John suggests that Jesus our Good Shepherd will walk with us through “the valley of the shadow of death”; that with him, even as we approach our own death, we need fear no evil, for he who raises the dead and gives life (5:21) is with us, he will comfort us, he will go ahead of us (10:4), he will prepare a place for us (14:2–3), and he will give us eternal life (e.g., 3:16; 6:40).  Always in Jesus our Good Shepherd, as we hear his voice and follow, he gives life and—as John emphasizes in this morning’s text—he gives life abundantly (10:10).

I pray that we may continue to learn to better recognize our Shepherd’s voice.  For as he called Mary by name outside the tomb, so does our Shepherd call each of us by name.  For our Shepherd loves us, he bids us follow, he wants to keep us from “thieves and bandits,” and he wants to “pasture” us in places that are life-giving.  And he does this all because he wants us to have life and to have it abundantly.  Life abundant, as it can be found only in Christ.

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