Images of death and life run through all our readings today. After the healing of a crippled person on the Sabbath, Peter stands before those who would condemn him to say that it is in the name of him whom God raised from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth, that the man could now walk. In the life of the one who died, new life and hope is given in an act of kindness. St John, for his part, points to a future life, that awaits all who die in Christ Jesus; a life whereby we come to see our true heritage, by being transfigured into images of God’s risen son. Finally, in the Gospel, it is the Good Shepherd, this same Jesus, who will lay down his life so as to protect and defend the life of those who follow him. The path from death to life is the abiding mark of those who live in Christ.
But the kinds of death are important here, so that we might see from where life comes. It is the story involving Peter that might help us best to see this today.
The backstory is this. After Pentecost, Peter and John had been going to the Temple at Jerusalem, preaching about the resurrection of Jesus and the life they now lived in him. As they entered via the entrance called the Beautiful Gate, they came across a man who was crippled from birth. This location is important, for Peter and John had entered via the gate where the poor and downtrodden gathered, seeking any help or alms they could from those passing by. The two apostles met the man, who begged from them. They had no money to offer him, but Peter did offer him something else – as he described it, an act of kindness. Peter offered healing to the man, in the name of Jesus Christ.
Three things are worth noting here. The place where this all happened was, in a real sense, a place of death, as it was the location where those whose lives were broken etched out a kind of living death. Peter and John had deliberately come to this place of death, carrying a message of life. Secondly, the man himself had had to face from birth this living death, condemned to a life of destitution and rejection. The idea of life for him was but a dream. And thirdly, that act of kindness in the name of Jesus becomes a path from death to life – only by the name of Jesus, Peter would later say, can we be saved.
That Peter and John would go to where life was most in need is a sign of a true disciple of Christ. For Jesus went to the cross and his own death, so that death – in all its forms – might be overcome in his resurrection. An act of kindness can, in Jesus’ name, bring the gift of life.
Jesus comes to us where we are most in need of his life; he comes to those dark places in each of us most in need of his light; he comes to our sin, and offers forgiveness. He takes on our death, and offers us his life. This is the way of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. For all who, on the Good Shepherd Sunday, desire to share in this life of Jesus in a priestly way, may we lay down our lives in turn.
And on this ANZAC Day, may those who have laid down their lives in the death of violence and war, so that we might not be overwhelmed by the evil which resides in the reasons for conflict, know of the life offered by the Good Shepherd. In a special way, might our own prayers and offers of kindness, be with those who have participated in the death of war and who now live with the hope for life.
Calvary Care31 March 2023
Melbourne Catholic31 March 2023