The first thing that struck me, during the initial skim of the readings for this week is that the assemblers of the lectionary had violated one of their own organizing principles. Week by week, the RCL provides a first lesson from the Hebrew scriptures (except during Eastertide, when the first lesson is from the Acts of the Apostles), a Psalm chosen as a congregational sung response to that first lesson, a lesson from the Epistles (or occasionally from the Revelation to John) and a lesson from one of the Gospels. This Sunday, however, the Psalm is clearly meant to complement the Gospel lesson, and seemingly does not refer to the first lesson at all! I love the 23rd Psalm as much as the next preacher, but really! Quel fromage! as dear Molly Ivens, of blessed memory, used to say.
Imagine my relief when I turned to the pages of Homily Service, and discovered that I had judged the Consultation on Common Texts too harshly. In the “Ideas and Illustrations” section of the article for this week in 2009, John Rollefson provides a reflection upon the first and gospel lessons which puts them in conversation with one another. After first considering how very un-complimentary it is for Jesus to refer to his followers as sheep, he uses the Gospel lesson to address a common interpretation of Peter’s message from the first lesson with which Rollefson wishes to take issue.
A particular claim that Jesus as Good Shepherd makes in today’s reading may sound like especially good news. It corrects a misunderstanding of Peter’s words about Jesus in our second readings from Acts: “There is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Non salus extra ecclesiam is the Latin phrase meaning “there is no salvation outside the church.” Imperial Christendom would in time come to arrogate that phrase to itself as God’s monopoly on salvation. But Jesus’s words in John 10 preempt such an exclusivistic reading, as he declares in verse 16a, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Jesus concludes in universalistic, nonimperialistic language in verse 16b, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Work at finding a way to use these texts in relation to one another to help proclaim a Gospel that unifies rather tha divides our contemporary flock of believers, for whom our growing contemporary experience of mulicultural and multifaith realities is continually threatened by our so-called war on terrorism and growing xenophobia as a nation.
The New Testament contains both sorts of claims: excluvistic claims that seem to say that the salvation God offers in Jesus Christ is only for some, and inclusivistic claims that seem to say that the salvation God offers in Jesus Christ is for all. How do you handle these competing claims in your preaching?
John Rollefson (2008): 3 May 2009: Easter 4, Homily Service, 42:2, 131.
John Rollefson is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)