A Reflection based on the discussion that was held during the online worship of
the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas,
in the regional municipality of Apokoronas, on the island of Crete, in Greece
on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020, 11:00 am
in the Year of the Great Pandemic of 2020.
Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2.42-47
Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. . . . I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10.9-10
We gathered via the internet, and all told we were some sixteen souls gathered around by Zoom. We had an informal discussion about the texts, and these were some of the points made.
- Sheep are a very common thing here on Crete, and we know by experience that different flocks will listen to the different voices of their shepherds and follow them.
- In some places a shepherd will lie down at the opening to the fold, thereby becoming the “gate” to the fold, letting sheep in and keeping them in the pen.
- Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who by his life and teaching, and especially in his death, demonstrates his care for all the people around him, for humanity, and for us.
- The idea that God cares for us as a shepherd goes back ten centuries before Jesus, to the time of David, and the 23rd psalm.
- As the Body of Christ, we in the church can be like the shepherd, caring for others.
- This is shown in the passage from Acts, where Christians care for each other by sharing things in common. While this looks quite normal for us, this might be considered among the “many wonders and signs” in a society where such common concern was the exception rather than the norm.
- While not intentional, this kind of care would have had an evangelistic result. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, notes that the doctrine that Christians must care for each other and the stranger in need meant that in time of disease – such as a plague – Christians felt a divine moral obligation to do so; the traditional Greek and Roman temples and priesthoods did not have these teachings. Thus, in the time of a plague most non-Christians would get out of cities and take care of themselves but not others. Early Christian care – food, and very basic sanitation – appear to have increased (albeit, slightly) the survival rate of Christians and the non-Christians they cared for. This would have impressed the non-Christians , and increased the adherence of survivors to the Christian faith.
- In the Fourth Century CE the Emperor Julian complained how Christians took care of all sick, regardless of religious adherence, and recommended that Roman and Greek priests begin to do the same. This did not happen, because the ancient religions had no dogmatic reason to teach such things.
- This emphasis on care has been a part of Christian culture, and became a norm in our society, even when secularized. Medical care, especially for those who are not rich, was a central activity of churches through the medieval era and right into modern times.
- Only since the rise of the national health care (in Britain in 1948; Canada in 1968; and in Greece, 1981) has there been an assumption that the whole of society has a care of duty towards the health of everybody, based on need and not ability to pay; while this is normal for us now, it was controversial in earlier times, and in the United States, still is.
- Arguably, a modern Christian attitude must be concerned with the health of everybody, and whether by public or private means, or a combination of both, should consider how effectively medical care is provided, especially to the most vulnerable. This is part of what it means to “have life, and have it abundantly“.
May we, then, follow in the way of the Good Shepherd. As we have been cared for protected, as we have been led to green pastures and quiet waters that refresh us, and as we have feasted at abundant tables, so may we do the same for others.