April 22, 2018 — Fourth Sunday of Easter
Rev. Deacon Robert Zito
My mother and I had a tumultuous relationship. Ever since early childhood my mother and I had different expectations about how I might live my life. I was a talented violinist and actor as a youth and my mother did everything in her power to prevent me from taking up the violin or acting professionally. My mother was a child of the depression and she thought it was important to have a profession and, in her view, there were only two professions: doctor or lawyer. And so, my brother became a doctor and I became a lawyer.
And my mother’s advice did not stop in childhood. While my mother had only a high school education she had no shortage of opinions concerning my law practice. In fact, as you can imagine, my mother had no shortage of opinions on anything. I can only imagine what she would have thought of the idea of me being a college professor.
My mother died about 4 years ago. And during her dying, we became very close. I visited her often and our conversations no longer had that edge of conflict. She was never in any pain. She passed peacefully in her sleep.
I conducted her grave side service with love, courage and the reconciliation that whatever conflict we may have had in life, that conflict would go down to the grave. In death, so was the hatchet buried, despite our varying expectations of how I was to live my life.
Today’s Gospel is about reconciling different expectations.
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Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” This Good Shepherd reading is found only in John’s Gospel.
This reading is part of Jesus’ final public discourse before he enters Jerusalem and undergoes his passion. Up until this time, Jesus has been teaching and healing and saying various things about who he is and what his ministry is all about. This final discourse is his last chance to make his case in public.
Immediately prior to this reading, Jesus cures a blind man and makes various, oblique comments about spiritual blindness, typical of those oblique comments found in John’s Gospel. This, in turn, precipitates a question from one of the Pharisees: “Surely, we are not blind, are we?” And for Jesus, this really begs the question. And so, he begins to teach.
Jesus first uses the pastoral metaphor of shepherds helping sheep passing through gates, which leaves the Pharisees clueless. He sharpens the point by proclaiming that he himself is the gate through which these metaphorical sheep are to pass. As you can imagine, this must have raised an eyebrow or two. And then, to sharpen the point even further, he proclaims himself to be the good shepherd who will lead the sheep. The eyebrows must have been raised even further.
The Pharisees are fed up with all these parables and allegories. They beg Jesus to stop beating around the bush and to say directly, one way or another, whether he is, in fact, the Messiah. After all, there were plenty of others claiming the same title.
But there is a disconnect in the expectation. For many of the Jews, they expected that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on a white colt, armed, and with an army of soldiers sent to free the Jewish people from oppression and occupation and restore Davidic rule for eternity. They don’t believe that the Messiah would be a poor carpenter’s son who would preach a message of love and compassion. Nevertheless, Jesus embraces the agnostic: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Yes, Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a white colt. And yes, he would not be by himself. But instead of armed soldiers, it would be the people, the disenfranchised and those on the margins who would be accompanying him on his ride into Jerusalem. And yes, I suspect there also was a heavenly band full of angels. While his courageous, Messianic march into Jerusalem would not eliminate the Roman occupiers, his arms upon the cross would be opened wide to bring into one fold all of Israel, all of humankind, through one perfect act of redemption and reconciliation.
And on that Sunday, on the first day of the week, the resurrected Jesus would blow away the expectations of all, even those of his most devoted disciples.
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So, what are your expectations of life? Are you set in these expectations, or are you open to the voice of the Good Shepherd? Have you learned all you can about life, or are you still searching? Are you receptive to new and different ideas?
We seem to be living in a time of right and wrong: if you agree with me, you’re right, and if you don’t, you’re wrong. And everyone seems to know the right answer. We have lost the value of altering our expectations through positions opposite from ours. Some months ago, I was observing an oral business presentation and the thesis was that a certain newspaper is biased and should not be afforded any credibility because it disagreed with the presenter’s theories. When the presenter asked for questions, I could not help but ask whether the presenter believed he was biased in any way. He responded with great confidence: “No, I am not biased, I am right.”
What I enjoy the most about my job is the dialogue I have with my colleagues. Sure, we have our expectations on the rightness of our positions. But there hasn’t been a dialogue from which I found a flaw revealed in my initial expectation and a lesson learned as a result.
I believe I speak for all when I say this has been a long and seemingly endless winter. We were all greeted with snow twice this week, even in mid-April. Nevertheless, I rest in the faith that despite the darkness of winter and the lack of warmth, spring is due any day now, it’s just a little different from what we initially expected.
Life requires patience, flexibility and perseverance in the face of adversity and disappointment. We become lost in adversity and disappointment because of our expectations.
And that is only because we sometimes forget that expectations are God’s business, not ours.