I was watching TV the other day and saw an ad which got my attention, apparently the marketing minds over there at Subaru got it right when they were making this car ad. The commercial I’m talking about follows the travels of a car which got in a horrible car wreck. I mean this thing has been mangled. The entire left side of this car is a mass of torn metal. In each scene there are two characters. They have a brief conversation, one is looking at the car in awe, and the other tells the awe-struck character a simple, “they lived.” And this happens three different times, from the scene of the wreck, to the junkyard, to the car compressor we hear a “they lived.” Then the last scene shows a happy family getting into a new Subaru, thanking the car company for their lives. This commercial stuck out to me, not only because of the car, but because of what the company is trying to say to the consumer: “We are reliable. If you get in a car accident, you will live too.”
This commercial jumped out at me because it is almost a harken back to a time when advertisements were about how reliable, or high quality, or well made, the product was. But about 10 to 15 years ago there was a shift in advertising, no longer was the old practice of promising a well made product done, instead ads were made to show you what kind of life you would have if you but had this product.
A certain kind of cell phone will make you better at your job. These new household items will make you the best mother in the world. This particular TV will make you more desirable to others so you will have more friends. Companies trying to sell us things by telling us our lives are not good enough now, trying to sell us a lifestyle that they themselves made up. What they are trying to sell us is abundant life, which is of course what we just heard about from today’s Scripture.
What I just read was the third act of a play involving Jesus and the Pharisees, starting in chapter 9. The first act was the miracle story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind. Of course in John sight is not about the act of seeing with our eyes, it’s a metaphor. “Blindness or sight in the Gospel of John is not a biological ability or limitation, but rather a spiritual orientation and openness to the revelation of God in Jesus. In John sight indicates an embrace of the Jesus’ vision.*” Act 2 is the controversy that follows the miracle, surrounding the man’s sight. Act 2 ends with Jesus’ accusation of the Pharisees’ being blind, which we know to mean that the Pharisees do not understand what Jesus is trying to do.
And so Act 3, our Scripture today, is Jesus’ interpreting the first two Acts. He is explaining to the Pharisees just who he is and what he is about. We are listening into a conversation where Jesus lays it out to those opposing him. He is not trying to be mean to the Pharisees though, he is not admonishing them, claiming they are sinners at the hands of an angry God. He is trying his best to convince the Pharisees to follow him. He is meeting them where they are at and telling them his vision for the world. He is attempting to help the Pharisees be like the formerly blind man and receive a vision so they might see the world as Christ sees it.
True to Jesus ‘ way though, he doesn’t just lay it out straight forward. He doesn’t explain it in no nonsense terms. He instead tells a mind boggling riddle hinged on a type of profession few of us ever get to experience, shepherding. Jesus uses figures of speech to try and make allusions to how he interacts with the people, but all we get is the same thing that his audience got, a whole mess. Is Jesus the gate? Is he the shepherd? Is he the gatekeeper which opens the gate? Is he a combination of the three? Is he all three? It seems like he was alluding to the fact that he is all three, but the audience didn’t get it. So he tried to make simple by stating he is the gate. A gate which offers abundant life in the here and now, when others offer things which are futile, maybe even dangerous. Jesus is not talking about some life in the ever after, but one that can be experienced in the life we life right now.
There has been much talk about who the thieves whom Jesus spoke about were. Some say that the author of John was writing against those preachers in his own time which he did not agree with. The preachers who were leading the faithful away from the radical message of Jesus. Others say that Jesus was giving warning to the faithful that the Pharisees would try and lead them off the Way, but this doesn’t make much sense in this story because Jesus was preaching TO the Pharisees. I’ve already said he was trying to include them in the fold. Either way though, we need to be careful about who in today’s world we label as thieves, for we are not the gate, we are not the gatekeeper, we are not the shepherd, we are the sheep.
We are the sheep and Jesus is our shepherd. I know I just said he’s the gate, but like all of us, Jesus can wear more than one hat. While I am a preacher, I’m also a student, a brother, an uncle, and many more roles within my life. So Jesus is our shepherd, leading us out in front. He knows our name, knows us intimately enough to know when we stray, when we aren’t in sight, when we go out and search for something more “fulfilling” or someone who promises to make us famous or successful or whatever. He goes out and searches for just that one lost sheep, calling out our names. That’s how many shepherds work, they know their sheep so intimately they can call them by name out to follow. Jesus leads out in front, calling us into better manifestations of ourselves, calling us to abundant life, right here right now.
Abundant life isn’t some distant goal which we can attain. Maybe like happiness, abundant life is a byproduct “of following Jesus, the one who opened the eyes of the blind, fed the hungry, comforted the distraught, and everywhere and always witnessed to the universal and unending love of God.*” Abundant life happens when we follow Christ and do the things Jesus did. God meets us and calls us by name to follow Christ and live into the life which can have full meaning.
The call to abundant life is not just for the individual though, it is for the entire church. We are to help the world have an abundant life. On this Mother’s day let us attempt to do that. As the bride of Christ, a sort of mother for the world, the Church is responsible for helping all persons to have the chance to experience this abundant life. This Mother’s Day we need to get back to the roots of the holiday.
Mother’s Day was a radical day where mothers banded together to advocate for an end to war, for peace to reign. Here’s part of the proclamation “From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe our dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.*” Mother’s Day is day with a radical message, it says peace and prosperity are not mutually exclusive. Let us now call for peace to reign, let us work for it, yell for it, scream for it until people listen. Let us work so that those war-torn places like Ukraine, Syria, and Nigeria might get a chance to worry more about helping others and less about a stray gunshot killing their sibling; let us work so these children might worry about feeding the hungry and not worrying about whether or not they step on a mine while playing soccer; let us work so all people might actually get the chance to hear when Jesus calls their name, instead of hearing only bombs exploding. Let us not give into the thief called “indifference,” but follow the one who worked so all might have life, and have it abundantly.
1. “Pastoral Perspective of Easter 4A” Shannon Michael Pater, Feasting on the Word Year A Vol. 2, loc. 16073.
2. “Abundant Life Now,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3198 (accessed 5/10/14).