Easter ++++++++++

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Taken from LIFE OF CHRIST, Image Books, 1958

Philosophers, scientists, and sages often lay claim to the superiority of their respective systems. Not surprising is it, therefore, that since both Our Lord and the Pharisees were teachers, there should be a dispute between them concerning their doctrines. But Jesus, as always, refused to put Himself on the level with human teachers; He claimed uniqueness as a Divine Teacher. But he went even further. He came to sacrifice Himself for His sheep, not to be a Master over pupils. The Pharisees and He argued about their doctrines. On the one hand, He called Himself the Door affording the sole admission to the Father; the Porter or Keeper of the Sheepfold; He called Himself also the Shepherd or Guardian of the sheep, and finally He was the Sheep who would become a victim. On the other hand, He compared the Pharisees to those who entered not by the door, and therefore sought to prey on the flock; and to mercenaries who would run when the wolves came; and finally to wolves who would devour the sheep.

The dispute arose after Our Blessed Lord had restored sight to a man blind from birth. The Pharisees began making an investigation of the miracle. There was no denying the fact that the blind man could now see; but the Pharisees were so determined that this should not be accounted a miracle that they went to his parents, who testified that the boy had been born blind. They made up their minds that no amount of evidence would ever change their opinion, for they had now

For the Jewish authorities had already agreed that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as
Messiah should be banned from the synagogue. [John 9: 22]

The man born blind thus was the first of a long line of confessors who Our Lord said would be driven out of synagogues. The Pharisees, finding the blind man, said that Christ could not possibly have done it because they said, "He is a sinner." When he who was blind became impatient with the questions of the Pharisees and their refusal to accept the evidence of their senses, he argued against them:

If that man had not come from God he could have done nothing. [John 9: 33]

The beggar was far wiser in his understanding of the miracle than the Pharisees, as Joseph was wiser than the so-called wise men of Egypt in the interpretation of the dream of Pharaoh. The progress in the blind man's thinking and faith was like that of the woman at the well. First, the blind man said of Him:

The man called Jesus. [John 9: 11]

Later on, after further questioning. he said, as did the woman at the well:

He is a prophet. [John 9: 17]

Finally, he declared that He must come from God. Such is often the progress of those who finally come to the truth about Christ. When the cured man confessed Christ to be the Son of God, the Pharisees excommunicated him from the synagogue. This was serious; for it cut off the beggar from the outward privileges of the commonwealth of the people and made him an object of derision. Hearing of the ban, Our Lord, restless until He found the lost sheep, sought out the condemned man. Meeting him face to face, He asked:

Have you faith in the Son of Man? [John 9: 35]

And the beggar said:

Tell me who he is, sir, that I should put my faith in him. [John 9: 36]

Our Lord answered as He did to the woman at the well:

You have seen him . . . indeed it is he who is speaking to you. [John 9: 37]

The man who was blind then prostrated himself before the Lord in adoration. His was not the faith that confessed with the lips, but which worshiped Truth Incarnate. His reasoning was so simple and yet so sublime. He Who could perform such a miracle must be of God. Then if He was of God, His testimony must be true.

The Pharisees had made a complete investigation of the miracle; there was no doubt among the witnesses; the parents and the man himself admitted that a great miracle had been done: a miracle of the eyes to restore his vision; and of the soul, giving him faith in Christ. Because the Pharisees rejected the evidence, Our Lord told them that they were the blind leaders, and because they had rejected Him, judgment would fall upon them. He told them they had a chance to be illumined by Himself, the Light of the World. Without that illumination, their blindness could be a calamity; but now, it was a crime.

They had closed the door of the synagogue on the man born blind. The Pharisees imagined that they had thus cut him off from all communication with the Divine. But Our Lord told the crowd that though the door of the synagogue was shut, another door opened:

I am the door; anyone who comes into the fold through Me shall be safe. He shall go in and out and shall find pasturage. [John 10: 9]

He did not say that there are many doors, nor that it made little difference through which other door one sought the higher life; He did not say that He was a door, but The Door. There was only one door in the ark through which Noah and his family entered to be saved from the flood; there was only one door in the Tabernacle or Holy of Holies. He claimed for Himself the sole right of admission or rejection with respect to the true fold of God. He did not say His teaching or His example was the door, but that He personally was the unique entrance to the fulness of the Godlife. He stands alone and shares no honors with His colleagues, not even with Moses, and much less with Zoroaster, Confucius, Mohammed, or anyone else.

No one comes to the Father except by me. [John 14: 6]

After telling the Pharisees that they were really not teachers, but blind leaders, strangers, and hirelings, He set Himself in contrast to them not only as the Unique Teacher but as something infinitely more. He was not merely giving ideas or laws, He was giving life.

I have come that men may have life, and may have it in all its fullness. [John 10: 10]

Men have existence, but He would give them life, not biological or physical life, but Divine life. Nature suggests but cannot give this more abundant life. Animals have life more abundantly than plants; man has life more abundantly than animals. He said that He came to give a life beyond the human. As the oxygen could not live the more abundant life of the plant, unless the plant came down to it, so neither could man share Divine Life unless Our Lord came down to give it.

Next, He proceeded to demonstrate that He gave this life not by His teaching, but by His dying. He was not uniquely a Teacher, but primarily a Savior. To illustrate again the purpose of His coming, He reached back into the Old Testament. No figure is more often employed in the Exodus to describe God leading His people from slavery to freedom than that of a shepherd. The prophets also often spoke of the shepherds who preserved a flock in good pastures as distinct from false shepherds. God is depicted by Isaiah as carrying His sheep in His arms, and by Ezekiel as a shepherd looking for His lost sheep.

Zechariah gave the saddest picture of all in prophesying that the Messiah-shepherd would be struck, and the sheep dispersed. Best known is Psalm 1. 3 where the Lord is pictured as leading His sheep into green pastures.

The Lord revealed at what cost these green pastures are purchased. He was not the Good Shepherd because He provided economic plenty, but because He would lay down His life for His sheep. Once again the Cross appears under the symbol of the shepherd. The shepherd-patriarch Jacob and the shepherd-king David now pass into the Shepherd-Savior, as the staff becomes a crook, the crook a scepter, and the scepter a Cross.

The Father loves Me because I lay down My life, to receive it back again. No one has robbed Me of it;
I am laying it down of My own free will. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right
to receive it back again. [ John 10; 11, 17, 18]

His death is neither accidental nor unforeseen; nor does He speak of His death apart from His glory; nor of the laying-down of His life without taking it up again. No mere man could have said this. The invisible aid of Heaven was at His call. Here Our Lord established that His Father's love had sent Him on the mission that He was to accomplish on earth. It did not mean the beginning of the Father's love, as it might be the beginning of a love of a parent for one who rescued his child from drowning. He was already the Eternal Object of an Eternal Love. But now in His human nature, He gives an additional reason for that love, namely, the proving of His love by dying.

Since He was sinless, death had no power over Him. The taking-up of His life was just as much a part of the Divine plan as was the laying-down of it. The sacrificial lambs offered through the centuries were sin-bearers by imputation, but they were also dumb sufferers led in ignorance to an altar. The priest of the Old Law would lay his hand over the sheep in order to indicate that he was imputing sins to the one to be sacrificed. But He willingly took on sin for the sake of the new life He would bestow after the Resurrection. When He said that He laid down His life for His sheep He meant not only in behalf of them, but also in the stead of them. After the Resurrection, when He gave Peter the triple injunction to feed His lambs and sheep, He prophesied that Peter would have to die for His flock, as He had done.

The Father loved Him, He said, not merely because He laid down His life, for men can become victims of superior forces. If He died without resuming His life, His function would have ceased after His sacrifice; He would have been only a beautiful memory. But the Father's love contemplated more than this. He also was to take up His life and to continue to exercise the royal rights. In retaking life, He would be able to continue sovereignty on different terms. This double action was the mandate of His Father.

This charge I have received from My Father. [John 10: 18]

Thus, while the surrender of His life and the taking-up of His life Was spontaneous, it was also a consequence of an appointment and an ordinance which He received from the Heavenly Father when He became man. The Father did not will that His Son should perish, but rather that He should triumph in the greatest possible act of love. Later on, during the Agony in the Garden, He would confirm this blending of His own freedom with the Divine order. Previously, His hearers had heard Him say:

I have come down from Heaven, not to do My Own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me. [John 6: 38]

Thus, the dispute that began on the subject of leadership through teaching ended on the subject of an increase of life through Redemption. The miracle of giving sight to the man born blind was like all of His miracles------they pointed to His work of giving His life as a ransom for mankind.

Every moment of His life had the Cross in it; His teaching had value only because of the Cross. His active exposure to the Cross for the sake of love was quite different from a stoic acceptance of it when it came. But He entered voluntarily the gate of Calvary for the sake of righteousness. Paul would tell the Romans later on the wonders of this love of the Shepherd for His black sheep.

For at the very time when we were still powerless, then Christ died for the wicked.
Even for a just man one of us would hardly die, though perhaps for a good man one might actually
brave death; but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God's own proof of His
love towards us. And so, since we have now been justified by Christ's sacrificial death,
we shall all the more certainly be saved through Him from final retribution. [Romans 5: 6-8]