This week the lectionary continues its narratives from the book of Acts (in lieu of a Hebrew Bible lection) that teach us about what it means to live in a post resurrection world.
The narrative begins with the disciples Peter and John in prison. The occasion for their arrest is of interest. On their way to a time of prayer in the temple Peter and John happen upon a lame beggar who asks the disciples for money. The disciples are unable to produce money but in lieu of their lack of alms they give the beggar much more than he expected–his mobility! The now mobile man follows Peter and John into the temple and begins praising God and clinging to Peter and John. Those in the temple recognize the beggar and gather about in astonishment of this healing miracle. Peter uses the occasion to address the crowd:
You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him (Acts 3:12-13).
Peter goes on to deliver a sermon on the crucified and resurrected Christ in the temple precincts. This proclamation does not impress the temple establishment, and they quickly move to silence the disciples:
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening (Acts 4:1-3).
Our narrative picks up the story the following day when the temple aristocracy gathers to deal with the two disciples they have in their custody. Interestingly the question they ask of Peter and John is the same question the two of them already answered to the astonished temple goers who witnessed their healing miracle, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Peter is unabashed in his declaration that the healing occurred by the name of the resurrected Christ. He is also unabashed in implicating the temple aristocracy in the crucifixion of Jesus. Finally, Peter draws a hard line by saying that “there is salvation in no one else [i.e. aside from Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Peter makes these declarations while he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” adding to their importance and authenticity as the Word of the Lord.
Everybody knows Psalm 23. It has a reputation as a funeral psalm and it is often relegated to use in those settings alone. Phillip Jenkins (scholar of the history of Christianity around the globe), however, interestingly points out that in the African and Asian churches Psalm 23 is not known as a funeral psalm but rather a psalm of resistance against oppression. In these contexts the psalm passes on this message to its hearers, “The Lord is my Shepherd–YOU AREN’T!” This is an interesting new way to look at the Psalm, and one that the Psalm offers an appropriate response to our reading from the book of Acts.
The psalm is also chosen in light of the gospel lection in which Jesus declares himself the good shepherd (in contrast to the bad shepherd [likely a veiled reference to the people’s current leaders who do not recognize Jesus as the Christ]).
1 John 3:16-24
Our New Testament epistle reading reminds us that Christ is our exemplar. The epistle declares “we know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” The epistle goes on to describe what that means. By laying down our lives for others we love not only in “word and deed” but in “truth and action.” Our acts of kindness, benevolence, and advocacy for the ‘least of these’ show, more than our rhetoric, that we abide in Christ.
In our gospel Jesus contrasts himself, the “good shepherd”, with the “bad shepherd.” The difference between the good and the bad shepherd is that the good shepherd is not a hired hand, but owns the sheep, and is therefore willing to lay down his life for the sheep when the wolf threatens the flock. This decision the good shepherd makes freely.
The good shepherd is also known by the sheep and they answer to his voice. Indeed, there will be some sheep that are not of the current flock that are still the good shepherds and will respond when the good shepherd calls them.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the provision of God as a our shepherd. When others abandon us to save their own skin we find the good shepherd by us at all times, through thick and thin. We are raised by this good shepherd, and we know his voice, and as we are cared for we learn to care for others. Soon we welcome into the flock (as we were once welcomed) all those who were outside. In our worship this week we proclaim the name of Jesus as the good shepherd, who has laid down his life and given us an example that we too can live self sacrificially and welcome all into his presence.