“Good Sheep”

Our Gospel reading tells us that the Risen Christ has come to stand over and against the powers that undergird tyrants and human corruption. He’s telling us that the Risen Christ has come to stand between those beyond mere human agents. He’s come to free us from those darker powers of sin and death, that threaten to deprive us of the life—abundant and eternal—that God intends for his people. And the Good Shepherd, God in Christ, will face down these dark powers directly. He will not run from them. He will tell them that if they want to get to us, then they’re going to have to go through him. He is the gate. He is the gatekeeper, and the battle has, in fact and reality, already been won. That is the power of the cross. That is the message of the empty tomb. When we settle for an image of Christ that’s limited to reassurance and comfort, we risk that image becoming an idol. Big time. This idol hems in the risk and danger of following Christ, and so whatever we gain in safety and security, we lose in terms of reality and purpose. The end result are people—and far too often churches—that retreat in the face of threats, that pursues accommodation in the face of corruption, people and churches that are more of the world than in the world, instead of bearing witness to a unique way of life.

At the end of the day, this unique way of life, this life of faith, is about relationship. The sheep obey the shepherd not because they’re stupid, not because they’ve been trained the right way. No, they obey because they know the shepherd’s voice, and they trust the shepherd. Their faith is based on the relationship. And it’s in that context, the context of relationship, that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, becomes–for us––the gate, the gate that opens to still waters and green pastures, the gate to new life. We walk through it, even though we don’t have it all figured out, because we trust in Jesus. We know he’s worth trusting even when we’re not sure where the path is heading. Even if, though it might be better to say, when it runs through the valley of the shadow of death.

The artwork to the right is Jesus and the Lamb by Katherine Brown.

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16—Israel’s False Shepherds/God the True Shepherd

1The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: To the shepherds—thus says the Lord God: Woe, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat; you clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatted calves, but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak; you have not healed the sick; you have not bound up the injured; you have not brought back the strays; you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will sort them out. 12 As shepherds sort out their flocks when they are among scattered sheep, so I will sort out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them into their own land, and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strays, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Gospel Reading: John 10:1-18—Jesus the Good Shepherd

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”