I remind you of the well-known Rudolph Bultmann quote: “After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the preacher became the preached.”

His statement accurately described one of the fundamental differences between the historical Jesus and the risen Jesus. During His earthly ministry. Jesus delivered a message to His followers which didn’t include anything about Himself. He basically preached about God’s plan for us and our response to it.

But after His resurrection, Jesus’ followers not only continued to preach His message, they also began to preach Him, encouraging their disciples to see how Jesus actually was the message He preached. He embodied God’s will and our response to it. Instead of just delivering the good news, the risen Jesus becomes the good news.

Good shepherd

For instance, Sunday’s Gospel of Jesus, the good shepherd, is found only in John, the last Gospel (Jn 10: 11-18). Both Matthew and Luke have passages in which Jesus defends His reaching out to sinners by reminding His audience of how shepherds react when they discover a lost lamb. But in neither of them does Jesus call Himself the “good shepherd.”

Only toward the end of the first century does someone (John the Evangelist) apply that title to Jesus. During His earthly ministry, Jesus was a carpenter who sometimes spoke about shepherds. After His resurrection, His community forgot about His historical profession and began to refer to Him as a shepherd.

We see Peter doing something parallel in the first reading (Acts 4: 8-12). Defending his cure of the crippled man, he states, “All of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in His name this man stands before you healed.”

Probably the historical Jesus never cured anyone in His own name. (That would have sounded similar to George Burns’ courtroom oath in the movie “Oh God!” - “So help me me!”) Yet it didn’t take long for His disciples to begin employing that name in carrying out their own ministries. What they did, they did because the Risen was working through them.

Though this “preacher/ preached stuff” makes sense, there’s something in the second reading (I Jn 3: 1-2) which creates a difficulty for us. “We know,” the author writes, “that when what is to be will be revealed, we shall be like Him [the risen Jesus].” Amid all the unknowns of faith, the sacred writer is certain of one thing: Those who imitate Jesus will one day be like Jesus. If that’s so, that means that we who preach Jesus will one day also be preached!

What about us?

In a recent talk, poet Maya Angelou reflected on how our lives influence the lives of others. Comparing this phenomenon to the rainbow seen by many individuals, she gave examples of how simple people, living their lives in a generous, giving way, helped change the lives of others for good.

Her uncle was one such person. Though she never thought more than a handful of people had ever known him, she was to discover at his Arkansas funeral that he had been responsible for deeply altering the lives of at least two prominent people - one, the mayor of Little Rock. These persons became significant only because an insignificant, yet giving individual had crossed their path.

I presume that when any of us minister in Jesus’ name, we’re preaching Jesus. Yet reflecting on what happened to Jesus, I also presume that one day some people might actually be preaching us. Of course, one of the things which happened to Jesus was that He died for others. That implies that only if we integrate dying for others into our own lives will anyone even remember us, much less preach us.

(05-08-03)