The Good Shepherd – Easter IV by Mother Beth
Have you ever noticed that it can be difficult to figure out who has your best intentions at heart? If you enter into a business transaction – say to purchase a used item – a previously owned vehicle or a refurbished appliance. If the sales person says, “I am trustworthy” – it does not necessarily assure you that they are trustworthy. We are suspicious of people who claim that we can trust them.
The gospel reading for today is commonly known as “the good shepherd” passage. Although we hear this passage out of context, let me remind you where this occurs in the gospel. In the 10th chapter of John, Jesus is responding to events that have happened in the earlier chapter.
Several weeks ago we heard about the man born blind – Jesus spit on some mud and put it on his eyes and told him to go wash. You will remember that the man was healed but, because of that healing there was great discussion about who Jesus is. The leaders of the synagogue were upset that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath – because they consider it work – and they interpreted God’s commandment about keeping the Sabbath as highly important and did everything possible to refrain from work on the Sabbath. So who is this Jesus who heals and disregards the Sabbath – surely he cannot be from God – he must be a sinner – he must be evil.
There are many people who still have the same struggles today. The Easter season asks the question over and over again – who is Jesus and what will we do with him – what place will we give him?
So right on the heels of all this discussion about who Jesus is and whether or not they can trust him – Jesus says, Very truly I tell you….
In other words, Jesus is saying, I am telling the truth – you can trust me.
He goes on to talk about the others – the thieves and bandits that find some other way to enter the sheepfold – not by the gate but by any other way. Those people are up to no good – they do not have good intentions for the sheep.
But the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The one who is given permission by the gatekeeper – that is the one you can trust. And you will know that you can trust him because he promises that his sheep know his voice. He calls them by name.
One of the things that parents and children are encouraged to do today (especially in the city where there are many adults coming and going from schools and daycares) is to establish a “safe word”. In the event that someone other than their parent comes to pick them up – that adult would know the safe word to say to them. So if a neighbor is sent on the adult’s behalf then that adult must say the “safe word” so that the child knows the parent has sent them.
Jesus is telling those around him – you can trust me – I am the shepherd – the gatekeeper has vouched for me and let me in – I came through the proper channels – I know your name and I even know the “safe word”. This is not a trick – I did not sneak in!
But the scripture goes on to say, “they did not understand what he was trying to say to them”.
So Jesus tries another approach – “I am the gate for the sheep” and “whoever enters by me will be saved”. You may have heard that in some instances the shepherd acted as the gate for the sheep.
The sheepfold was built with a gap for a doorway. In this gap the shepherd would stand, sit or lie and this would keep the sheep inside the fold. More importantly though, the shepherd could provide protection against any attacks. With the shepherd right there keeping watch it would be difficult for thieves and bandits to steal sheep. It would also be difficult for animals to get by to hurt the sheep. The shepherd protects against predators.
Whether we realize it or not there are still predators out there. There are people who are not trustworthy.
It is important to know who you can trust. It is comforting – in difficult circumstances and in the face of fear – to know that the Shepherd is trustworthy. The protection of the sheepfold is that the sheep are huddled together. In a group they are safer than they would be on their own and the shepherd protects the whole group.
The passage does not end there – it is not just about being huddled together in the safety of the fold. The sheep “come in and go out and find pasture” – the Shepherd leads the sheep out to find pasture – to enjoy the sunshine and the fields – to be nourished by the grass – to have the freedom to run and play. It is not a picture of the sheep cowering in the corner for fear but rather a picture of security, safety and freedom.
Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
And that is what he offers. Abundant life. What does abundant life look like for you? For the man born blind, abundant life is to be able to see – to be freed from disability. What does abundant life look like for you? To walk in wholeness – to be set free from emotional or psychological baggage?
In Isaiah 61:1 we hear, The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, [Isa 61:1 NIV].
This is the passage that Jesus stood up and read in the temple in Luke 4 – Jesus declares that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy.
The abundant life involves freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom from oppression.
The Easter message has reminded us that we are saved from sin and death but this passage adds to that that we are saved for something – we are saved for abundant life – The good shepherd leads us from the safety of the sheepfold to the pasture of abundant life.
So do not be discouraged; imagining that the Christian life is one of restrictions and “thou shalt nots” – it is so much more than that. The truth is – the shepherd can be trusted – he leads and protects. Jesus says, “The thief comes to kill and destroy but I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly”. O Lord, help us to trust you and to let you free us to live an abundant life. Amen.