Acts 4: 8-12; 1John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18
Many of you have probably seen the video of Pope Francis from the past week or so when the young boy gets up to ask him a question and can’t get it out because he’s just sobbing. His father had died and believed to be an atheist and he was concerned about his well-being. It’s a lot of pressure on the young boy, not only losing his father which is traumatic enough but also worried about whether God is taking care of him. Pope Francis calls him up and hugs him and speaks to him, showing him just a great depth of love. First, it’s a good reminder of how we as adults influence young people by our words and actions and what it is they absorb from us. Also, ironically, though, it’s that depth of love that has often got Pope Francis in trouble with the religious zealots. Any zealot, religious or political does not leave much space for such love. They often just can’t receive it. In the end it’s not simply Pope Francis or anyone else who shows such love that is put on trial, but rather Love itself. It’s love working in and through him that is put on trial and in doing so exposes the zealots for who they really are.
It’s no different for the early community that we hear of in today’s first reading from Acts. They literally are on trial for the healing of this cripple. Like most healing stories, though, including in the gospel, it’s more than just the healing that perturbs the zealots. It’s the fact that as John tells us in the second reading today, the claim their place as children of God. They can no longer be touched by the political and religious authorities because something has changed dramatically in their life. The ones healed finds themselves no longer bound or defined by the temporal authorities of their time and that causes unrest. But like Francis, their approach in life is very different than those who have closed themselves off in fear. To regain that status as children of God it doesn’t mean that they become kids, like that little boy who simply sees the world through a black and white lens, but rather are moved to a place where the Love who had created them is now the love working through them. That very love casts out all fear and in doing so exposes it for its shallowness and narrowness in thinking and understanding. Not in their wildest dreams can they begin to imagine a God they can’t control of sorts. The zealots no longer stand as the mediator but Love itself.
There is that same connection in today’s Gospel because in some ways Love is on trial in the person of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. He too just found himself in this long interaction and conflict because of the healing of the blind man which comes just prior to today’s reading. That man, too, has been reclaimed as a child of God as well and begins to live into this newfound freedom. He’s no longer bound by any of the authorities, including his own family. His healing not only exposes the fear of the zealots but also their blindness towards love and the person of Jesus Christ. But Jesus isn’t done with them yet. He then proceeds into this discourse of the Good Shepherd who then calls them out for being false prophets, hired workers who care more about themselves and their own narrow beliefs. Like that young boy with Pope Francis, they have yet to move forward in life and continue to live in a very defined world which again leaves very little space for love. When their narrow beliefs clash up against the human person they choose their belief and the law over the well-being of the person and unable to show them love. This is the reason why they become such a threat to the zealots, including Jesus himself.
He pushes it though in today’s gospel. He reminds them that there are still others beyond the gate who will hear his voice and he’s called to lead. The one thing about insiders and even zealots is that they think they possess the truth. It’s hard to love and to seek that truth when you think you already have it and possess it. Love, on trial, again exposes their own fear for what it is, attached to the ruler of the world. They are unable to love with such great depth until they allow themselves to fall into this mystery of our faith. Right after the passage we hear today we are told that they begin to divide. They want nothing to do with Jesus or Love. They’d rather convict love than to open themselves up to change. Jesus will lead the children through the narrow gate where there is a sense of seeking and wandering and a desire for love. The insiders and zealots are left behind at their own doing, and yet, are blinded to that reality.
This is common language in much of our prayers this Easter Season. We hear over and over again of being the children of God and it’s easy to reduce that to just another nice thought. But for John it’s the stone rejected that becomes the cornerstone, to once again be moved to the place where we stand as children of God against a hostile world and a world that seeks knowledge, truth, and certainty while leaving very little room for Love. All these years later we continue to put Love on trial and even convict love over our own narrow beliefs that hinder us from embracing the love that created us and tries to work through us. It’s what makes the disciples untouchable. They see as God sees, exposing the fear and hurt for what it really is and rather than rejecting the person, they do as the Good Shepherd has taught. They love and with that the world is transformed not by them but through them and the love freely given!