jump to navigation

Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 3, 2009) April 15, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Fourth Sunday of Easter

The image, indeed the title, of shepherd holds two of our passages together. Just as the people of Israel praised the Lord as their shepherd in the familiar Psalm 23, so Jesus claims the title for himself in John 10. Most of us have little or no experience of sheep and shepherding. The image might not speak very well to our technological age. We do not like to think of ourselves as sheep that are herded here and there. But in ancient times, the relationship between shepherd and sheep was a critical one, and it served in many ways to describe leadership and security. When people felt harassed and helpless, for example, they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34). Much larger than that, various nuances of the shepherding in the Bible range from intimacy to royalty.

Besides shepherding in our passages for the day is another motif. It is the name of God and of Jesus. What the name meant in ancient times might not seem any more relevant than the image of shepherd. But the divine name lies at the heart of biblical faith. Name and person are intimately tied together also. A person and his or her name are virtually one and the same. Calling God’s name honors God, recognizes God for whom God is, and the name we call God assures us of divine faithfulness.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 19: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B.


Psalm 23
This powerful psalm of trust looks to the Lord as shepherd to guide the individual worshiper and as king to protect and nourish him/her in the temple. The confession of the Lord as a shepherd is indeed a divine title at Ezek. 34:15 and a royal one at verse 23 (see also Mic. 5:5). This Shepherd King gets up close and personal. The Lord restores the petitioner’s spirit, leads, and guides the person in ways that reflect the saving action (righteousness) of God within the community. This guiding by the Lord is “for your name’s sake” (see Isa. 43:25; 48:9-11), that is, God’s name assures faithfulness to promises made, especially God’s presence to save the afflicted (Exod. 3:7-15; see also Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; 109:21; 148:5, 13). Even through the “valley of darkness,” the Lord will walk beside the psalmist, bringing comfort. This God has the reputation of protecting the poor from their foes (enemies, wicked, evildoers, godless, etc.), and this petitioner has experienced that protection personally. The mention of a meal might refer to the thanksgiving meal that follows God’s response to a lament in the face of such enemies (Ps. 22:26; 116:13, 17). Here the meal is even prepared and offered by the Lord in the temple as the enemies watch. God’s “goodness and mercy” (chesed) will not simply be available but indeed pursue the person for a lifetime. The psalmist’s expression of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” does not mean entering the priesthood but taking this powerful experience of God’s presence into daily life.


Acts 4:5-12
The healing in the name of Jesus of the man born lame gave opportunity for the apostles to announce that same name is the means by which all people might be saved.

Following the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate, the captain of the temple, the priests, and the Sadducees arrested Peter and John for preaching resurrection in Jesus. By their testimony, about five thousand people came to believe.

Key Words
V. 6. “the rulers and elders and scribes … with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family”: The prestigious group made up the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one persons who served as the supreme court for the Jews. The head of this assembly was the high-priest, along with ex-high priests and members of the priestly family. Annas was appointed as high priest by Quirinius (see Luke 2:2; 3:2) in A.D. 6/7 but was deposed in A.D. 15. His son-in-law Caiaphas (Luke 3:2;  occupied the office from A.D. 18-36. The two played key roles in the trial of Jesus (Matt. 26:3-4, 57-68; John 18:12-28). Alexander and John are not known apart from their family membership.

V. 7. “By what power or by what name did you do this?”: The reference is to the healing of the man who had been lame from birth. Note the connection between power and name is the question.

V. 8. Tote Petros plētheis pneumatos hagiou = “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit”: in Luke-Acts, the Holy Spirit is a predominant theme, starting with the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35), inspiring others (Elizabeth at 1:41; Simeon at 2:25-27, etc.), descending on Jesus at his baptism (3:21), and eventually on the people gathered on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

V. 9-12. en tini houtos sesōtai … kai ouk estin en allō oudeni hē sōtēria, … en hō dei sōthēnai hēmas = “in what way this one was healed … and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heavens given by which we must be saved”:  The play on words between the healing of the man and the salvation of us all brings the two into one context:  the kingdom of God. Recall the summary of Jesus’ ministry at Matthew 4:23; 9:35. The combination of preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus Christ sums the preaching of Paul (Acts 28:31). The significant change from Jesus’ own ministry to that of the apostles here is that the “name” that heals/saves is Jesus (see Matt. 1:21). He is “ Savior” according to Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 John 4:14, just as YHWH was Isaiah 43:3. Jesus’ name and his activity come together.

V. 11. “This is the stone that was rejected by you builders but that has become the head of the corner”: This quotation from Psalm 118:22 is quoted by Jesus at Matthew 21:42 (and parallels) where he promises that the kingdom will be taken away from the people of Israel and given to the nations because they reject him. In its original setting, this Hallel psalm uses these words to speak of the enemies, apparently ‘the nations,” from whom the Lord saved the petitioner. The words also appear at 1 Peter 2:7 to speak of Jesus the rejected one.


1 John 3:16-24
Because Jesus Christ demonstrated true love by laying down his life for us, God calls us to believe in Jesus’ name and love one another just as actively by helping those in need.

At the beginning of the chapter the author called on his readers to be who they are, God’s children, and that definition distinguished them from the children of “the evil one.” Like Cain who hated his brother and killed him, so are all who hate brothers and sisters. They do not have eternal life abiding in them.

Key Words
V. 16. en toutō egnōskamen tēn agapēn, hoti ekeinos hyper hēmōn tēn psychēn autou ethēken … = “In this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,…”: The act of sacrifice for others demonstrates the truth of “no greater love” at John 15:13. The connection between God’s/Christ’s love and our love for one another is a key theme throughout the Bible (e.g., Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 24:16-22). The two great commandments in the synoptics, the Lord’s Prayer, the gift of money (2 Cor. 9:13-15).

V. 17.  kai theōrē ton adelphon autou chreian echonta = “and sees his brother (or sister) having need”:  The same expression appears at Acts 2:45; 4:35 in terms of the early Christians sharing all their goods so that they might help “any that had need.” At Eph. 4:28 the expression appears as part of the instruction to a thief to earn a living so that he might give to any who have need.

V. 19.  hoti ek tēs alētheias esmen = “that we are from the truth”:  In v. 12 Cain is identified as “from the evil one,” and v. 10 indicates that all who do not do right are “not from God.” The “from” seems to indicate descendance, and so “from the truth” in our verse seems to indicate that our origin is in God. At John 14:6 Jesus asserts that he is “the truth.”

V. 23. “And this is his commandment”: The commandment is twofold: (1) “Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ” and (2) “love one another, just as he commanded us.” This twofold command sounds like the great commandment and a second like it (Matt. 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). In that combination also the love of God is so intimately tied to loving the neighbor that they can hardly be separated. The difference here is that believing in the name of Jesus leads to loving one another.


John 10:11-18
On the basis of his willingness to die for his flock and because of his intimate knowledge of his flock, Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd of his people.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had an encounter with the Pharisees over several issues surrounding his healing of the man who had been blind since birth (9:1-34). When the Pharisees later heard Jesus telling the man about his coming into the world “that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind,” they asked him if they were blind. Jesus’ response, in effect, was affirmative. Jesus then turns to the image of shepherding, indicating in 10:7 that “I AM the door/gate of the sheep.”

Key Words
V. 11.  egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos = “I am the good shepherd”: In the OT, YHWH is called Israel’s Shepherd at Gen. 49:24, and at Ezek. 34:15 the Lord announces “ I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” At Psalm 23, the Lord is the individual petitioner’s Shepherd. At Ps. 78:52-53 YHWH functions as Shepherd while guiding the people of Israel through the wilderness. The “I am” in this context and in the other “I am” passages in the Gospel of John is sometimes compared to “I am” declaration of YHWH at Exod. 3:14 (see Isa. 43:10, 13, 25; 51:12; 52:6). The combination of “I am” with the image of “good shepherd” thus connects Jesus with the YHWH, the one he calls Father. God transfers to Jesus “the name” that God took in the OT.

V. 11.  tēn psychēn autou tithēsin = “lays down his life”:  Peter offers to do lay down his life for Jesus at 13:37; it’s the “greater love” at 15:13 and the means by which we know the love of God and Christ at 1 John 3:16.

V. 14.  ginōskō ta ema kai ginōskousi me ta ema = “I know my own and my own know me”:  This second proof that Jesus is the good shepherd picks up a theme begun at v. 3:  the shepherd calls the sheep by name, and the sheep know his voice. The relationship between Jesus and his flock is like that between YHWH and the people of Israel:  the Semitic understanding of “know” goes beyond intellectual awareness to involve intimacy (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Amos 3:2; Nah. 1:7). At John 18:37, Jesus says to Pilate, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

V. 16. kai alla probate exō ha ouk estin ek tēs aulēs tautēs = “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold”:  The author of this gospel makes abundantly clear that God’s love and the coming of Jesus are intended for the world and not simply to the people of Israel. Even Jesus’ announcement that his “hour has come” takes place when the Greeks arrive to see him (12:20-23).

V. 16.  eis poimēn = “one shepherd”:  the expression is used at Eccles. 12:11 as a description of God, but at Ezek. 34:23 and 37:24 it is a designation for the Davidic king. Now, however, the flock extends beyond the people of Israel.