The Good Shepherd, John 10:11-16
2nd Sunday after Easter. Blake Schwendimann
Few images are more comforting to the Christian than the Good Shepherd. One of the most well known verses of Scripture, Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” When I hear these words, I am transported back to my earliest memories of a Christian Funeral, sitting in a pew as a young child, where I knew something sad had happened, but I didn’t quite know how to experience it. I remember there being sadness, and yet, hope. I remember hearing someone read the 23rd Psalm, and even at a young age, those words brought me comfort, as they still do. Though we don’t always understand the journey that is set before us, we know that we have a Good Shepherd leading us through the dark valleys. Even when we get thrown off course, either in the face of tragedy or from falling into sin, our Good Shepherd will patiently and lovingly bring us back home.
As we enter more fully into the Easter Season, we begin to focus on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and what discipleship looks like. We are learning what it means for us to be sheep. Out of all the steps there are to look at in discipleship I want to focus on two. First, we are to learn who Jesus is, and, second, we learn who we are, and what the relationship between us and Jesus looks like.
When we think of following Jesus, we often think of imitating his good deeds, his kindness, meekness and patience. We think, “It would be great if I was more like Jesus”, only in regards to all the positive and helpful things he did. We don’t immediately think of the passion and the crucifixion as part of what it means to follow Jesus, but that is part of the cost of discipleship too. As Jesus tells us, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” In this morning’s Epistle, Peter tells us that following Jesus includes enduring suffering. Not merely suffering for a just and worthy cause, but also enduring unjust suffering, and having patience in it. As Jesus said in Matthew 5, when someone strikes you, turn the other cheek. Being a disciple of Jesus has many great privileges and rewards, but it is also can be an arduous journey. As Christians on this side of Easter, we follow the conquering Lamb of Revelation chapter seven, who yet wounded, stands amongst his sheep, leading them as a Shepherd to the springs of living water, wiping away every tear from their eyes.
The relationship we develop with Jesus is one of complete and utter dependence as sheep are to a shepherd. Jesus tells us that he is not a false shepherd; he’s not a rent-a-shepherd, but rather, a Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him.
In southern California, we don’t have much interactions with animals, except maybe our dogs and cats. But in the ancient near East, the Shepherd was a well-known figure in society, and people knew good shepherds from bad ones. Jesus hearers would have been very familiar with his comparison of hired shepherds versus shepherds who personally own sheep. A good shepherd was one whose primarily obligation was to his sheep. He spent his life with the sheep, feeding them, protecting them, cleaning them and traveling with them daily. Because this Good Shepherd took his livelihood from his own sheep, he would do anything to ensure their wellbeing. He was fully invested in the life of his sheep. If a family only had a couple of sheep on their property and but had a trade to manage in the daytime, they would hire a ‘rent a shepherd’ who would take care of their sheep, along with others on a very part time basis. These ‘rent-a-shepherds’ were never as good as a true shepherd, and they certainly would not go out of their way searching for a lost sheep, or even think about giving up their life for the sheep in face of danger. If the wolf came, the hired hand would flee, leaving the sheep in harms way. But this type of Shepherd is not the One whom we follow. Our Shepherd has searched us out, called us by name, and in the face of danger, He laid down His life for us.
Because Jesus is our Good Shepherd, what is our role as His sheep in this journey of discipleship? In John 10:14 &15 Jesus says that he knows His sheep and His sheep know him. This is an image of mutual intimacy leading us to ask the question, do we know Jesus? Does He know us? Have we experienced His leading in our life? We are not going to be proficient Christian disciples or effective sheep if we have no idea who our Shepherd is and what He has done for us.
Thankfully, Jesus has not left us all alone to figure it out how to be disciples. We do not experience the Christian life as solitary individuals. We are called to be part of his Body, of his One Flock, where we are known. As modern Christians, we have almost unlimited resources available to us to learn who Jesus is and what it means to be his disciple. We have the Bible in our own language, we have 2,000 years of Christian wisdom and reflection, we have the Church and it’s Sacraments, which continually nourish and feed our souls, and we have other Christians who are walking with us, encouraging and challenging us to grow in the grace and knowledge of God. In last week’s Gospel, we learned that Jesus breathed on his disciples, giving them the power and authority to continue his ministry. In Scripture, the breath of God refers to His Holy Spirit. When our pastors and bishops were ordained and consecrated, they received the same Holy Spirit empowering them to be the Shepherds of Christ’s flock, continually pointing and leading us back to Christ, who is the Bishop and Shepherd of our souls.