Every year on this Fourth Sunday, halfway through Easter, we read from the tenth chapter of John, on the Good Shepherd. We continue our meditation on how Jesus’s resurrection penetrates into our lives.
The readings this week focus on the power of faith.
In Acts, the authorities ask Peter, “by what power or by what name do you do this?” The discussion, we learn, is about a healing. Peter talks about the power of healing, and says “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” He concludes, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The power of salvation is by the name of Jesus. The power goes with the name.
The Gospel reading takes up the same theme, though less obviously. Jesus says, “I lay down my life and take it up again,” then emphasizes his power: “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” Here he doesn’t talk about the “name” but he does talk about personal knowledge: “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” We enter into the power of Jesus: the power of his resurrection, by which he enters into our death so that we can enter into his resurrection. And we enter in by knowing him.
This (says St. Thomas Aquinas) is what all the business about the “name” really means: we know him. We recognize him.
In the Bible, sheep are not stupid. Sheep are the one kind of herd animal that don’t have to be beaten and driven, but follow after their shepherd, because they know him and trust him. They are like dogs, which we consider for that reason to be smart. But unlike dogs, sheep also flock together. That is the image of the Christian: he finds himself in the Church, the flock who know and trust and follow the Good Shepherd. They are joined together by the name of Jesus.
In Year B of the Lectionary, we spend Easter in John’s magnificent First Letter. The reading this Sunday is short but potent, and beautiful.
Again the theme is knowledge and power, the name and the reality. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called” – receive the name – “children of God; and that is what we are.” Indeed, the name we receive is the name of Jesus: Son of God. The fabulous thing is that he has the power to make it so.
“The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” It is all rooted in knowledge – not obscure textbook knowledge, but personal knowledge, knowing the Father, knowing the Son, knowing the person, knowing them by name.
“When he is revealed,” when we finally know him fully, “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” How do we receive the power of Christ? By seeing him, knowing him. Now we see dimly, by faith – and already we are transformed. The ultimate transformation will come through knowing him fully.
The reading from Acts and the Psalm use another metaphor: “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Corner sounds like the bottom, but in both the New Testament Greek and the Old Testament Hebrew it’s literally “the head of the angle.” This is the keystone of the arch, the piece without which the structure collapses.
That is a powerful stone. If it is there, everything stands, in magnificence. If it is missing – or too weak, or the wrong shape, poorly chosen – everything collapses. Jesus is the keystone. “There is salvation in no one else.”
And the focus is so beautifully on knowing the cornerstone. Human wisdom has chosen the wrong support, the wrong way of building. Only when we know Christ can we stand. (And notice, again: like the sheep, the stones stand or fall together, in the Church.) And so, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name.” If we do not know him, recognize him, it all collapses.
Finally, let us look one more time at this line from the Good Shepherd: “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”
First: John stakes everything on the Trinity. God himself is the eternal mystery of knowing and being known, of persons in communion. That is what we enter into when we know and are known by Christ: the eternal love of Father and Son – a love that knows.
Second: we know as we are known. We look at him and he looks at us. He knows his sheep by name, just as we know him.
Easter is the power of Resurrection. But it is a power that we enter into through the name: we love him as we know him.
Let me only add that this is the power of Scripture, and of the rosary: to gaze on Jesus, to know him more deeply, to speak his name.
What could you do to know Jesus better?