Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020Revised Common Lectionary
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As I encountered the motif of the Good Shepherd this week, I recognized the profound respect the shepherd shows for the sheep in the Psalm and in the Gospel and considered how this respect creates the context for trust and safety.
Current Events & World Affairs
UNESCO experts urge collective responsibility to protect vulnerable persons in global battle against COVID-19
UNESCO Press Release
Notice of the importance of advocating for global leaders to act to protect the most vulnerable persons during the COVID 19 crisis.
Consider ways we as individual citizens can influence leaders to protect vulnerable persons during this pandemic.
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How can we respect the lives of others in these days?
Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. 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...."Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” –from John 10:1-10
When our older son was very young, I overheard a conversation between him and a friend of his. Our son said, “There is a gate. And you can enter if you have the key.” His friend responded, “I didn’t know you had a gate in your yard.” To which our son responded, “I’m not talking about our yard. The gate is to my heart. And the key is respect. If you have the key you can open the gate.”
Needless to say, I was stunned. I still cannot explain how a six year old was in possession of such a concept, but I assure you the conversation occurred.
In these days of return to our own back yards, we are being invited to consider the gates by which we guard our own hearts and lives. Quite literally, and also spiritually, we are re-examining who is allowed into our space and for what purposes.
It is interesting to note that, in the passage, the shepherd, who could presumably lay claim to any point of entry he might choose, enters only by the gate, and with the assistance of the gatekeeper—a sign of respect. And then, the sheep follow him because they know his voice. Perhaps our son was on to something at a young age: to enter a person’s life or heart and be welcomed there requires respect. When we experience respect, trust has a chance to bloom.
There is a calm centeredness to the 23rd Psalm, the scriptural antecedent of today’s gospel. There is a reason the 23rd Psalm is the psalm most requested in the Requiem Eucharist for the dead. It calls us back to the space we occupy with God, where no one and no thing can rob us of our peace. Where we walk with one who brings us to still waters and green pastures. Where there is respect and trust.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Many people across the ages, including my own father, have requested this Psalm to be the last words they hear before dying.
In John’s gospel, after describing the good shepherd and identifying himself in that role, Jesus says that his purpose in coming, as the good shepherd, is so that the sheep may have life and have it abundantly. He gains the respect of the sheep; they come to recognize his voice. Then, he is able to offer them abundant life. They can receive life from him because they can trust him in the midst of threats to their existence.
The juxtaposition between life we call abundant and the valley of the shadow of death is unmistakeable. Our awareness of death brings the prospect of abundant life into clear focus. At the heart of abundant life is relationship with those whose voice we recognize, those who understand the importance of entering our lives and our hearts through the gate of profound respect.
In our current context, the issue of respect is important at both individual and systemic levels. There are those who are suffering in households where respect is absent; children and adults are living in spaces marked by practices that are abusive and harmful. In such circumstances, there can be no trust.
And on a systemic level, there are people around our globe without access to basic markers of respect of their humanity, such as soap and water for basic hygiene, as leaders from UNESCO note in today’s current events and world affairs lesson. Collectively, we have a responsiblity to put our resources and our voice behind leaders who respect the lives of those in greatest need so that together we can bring abundant life to them.
“The experts also appeal to governments and the international community to take urgent action through international cooperation in the spirit of solidarity, underlining the responsibility of rich countries to help poor nations. In such emergencies, political decisions need to be grounded in science and guided by ethics.”–UNESCO Press Release
In the context of this global pandemic, we have many opportunities to practice respect and to remember the interdisciplinary nature of respect. It is not a word relegated only to private piety or psychology. Rather, it reaches into our policies, our medical practices, our governments, our economics, and our societal practices. It is the prerequisite that enables trust to bloom around our kitchen tables and our world councils alike.
“There is a gate to my heart, and the key is respect,” a child once said to his friend.
Amid all the clamor, may we recognize the voice of respect and follow where it leads.