Jesus Is, We Are To Be, The Good Shepherd - John 10:11-18 (Wednesday Night Reflection)
A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of the dust cloud toward him. The driver, a young man in a Broni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses, and YSL tie leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”
The shepherd looks at the man, then looks at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answers, “Sure.”
The young man parks his car, whips out his notebook and connects it to a cellphone, then he surfs to a NASA page on the Internet where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system, scans the area, and opens up a database and Excel spreadsheets with complex formulas. He sends and email on this Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized printer, then turns to the shepherd and says, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep.”
“That is correct, take one of the sheep,” says the shepherd. He watches as the young man selects one of the animals and bundles it into his car.
Then the shepherd says: “If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me my sheep back?”
“Okay, why not,” answers the young man.
“Clearly, you are a consultant,” says the shepherd.
“That’s correct,” says the young man, “but how did you guess that?”
“No guessing required,” answers the shepherd. “You turned up here although nobody called you. You want to get paid for the answer to a question I already knew, and you don’t know anything about my business. Now give me back my dog!”
We find ourselves in the midst of a pasture for the second week in a row as we continue our journey through the “I Am” statements of Jesus.
We have head Jesus say, “I Am the Bread of Life,” and it is only through Christ we find that which fills the hunger in our souls.
We have heard Jesus say, “I Am the Light of the World,” and know that it is Jesus who brings God’s creative order to the world, shines light into the darkness of sin and reveals our true intentions, gives life to those who walk in His light, and gathers folks to Himself.
We have heard Jesus say, “I Am the Gate,” and understand that it is only through Jesus, not the things of this world, that we will truly find an eternal and abundant life.
Each week we have also examined, in light of Jesus’s words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you…”[i] and Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it…”[ii] what these “I Am” statements of Jesus mean for us, the Church, as the Living Body of Christ in the world. In other words, as Jesus states what He is in each “I Am” statement, He is revealing what we are to become.
As I mentioned earlier, with Jesus asserting His identity as “the Gate,” He let those listening know that it was through Him, and Him alone, that we pass through to find abundant, eternal life. This week, continuing with the same thinking, Jesus assures us that we will not have to find “the Gate” on our own, for He is the Good Shepherd—not only is He the Gate that opens to a fulfilled life, He is the One who gets us to that life.
We’ve talked about in past weeks how Jesus’ use of the “I Am” statements was controversial due to its connection to the revelation of God to Moses at the burning bush, and how those Jews hearing Jesus say, “I Am” would have heard Jesus equating Himself with God. If there was any doubt as to that allusion, Jesus left no question in their mind when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” With those words, everyone who heard would have immediately thought of the Words of God spoken through the prophet Ezekiel: “For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek 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…I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…says the Lord God.”[iii] By saying, “I Am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus identifies Himself with God in the Ezekiel passage and claims to be the fulfillment of this prophecy.
So what is in Jesus’ claim of being the Good Shepherd?
For something to be called “good” in our culture is not really that significant. We live in a culture where “excellence” is what is striven for, so we might hear “the Good Shepherd” and think of “good” in terms of being “okay” or “average.” However, the Greek word used in the Scripture is Kalos which is better translated as “ideal,” “model,” or “noble.” Jesus is saying I am the Ultimate Shepherd.
As the Ultimate Shepherd, Jesus sets Himself up opposite two other groups, the thieves and the hired hands.
The thieves, Jesus declares, don’t come to care for the sheep, as we read last week, they come to kill and destroy. They don’t use the gate, Jesus says, they jump the fence to try and steal the sheep, only to take them, not to a pasture of abundant life, but to death. We’ve encountered those thieves in our lives, those life-robbing destroyers of men and women. Some of those thieves promise abundant life in an attempt to get the sheep to voluntarily go with them. They come in, like someone abducting a child, offering balloons, candy, or a puppy to lull the sheep into thinking they are safe, and the next thing the sheep know they are on a trailer heading for slaughter. Drugs, gambling, and pornography come in like this, offering a temporary pleasure but likely ends in physical, financial, or emotional death. Other thieves come in and are obvious in their attempt to murder the sheep, often without even taking them out of the pasture—they just drive by and shoot the sheep where they stand or slip in and poison their food supply. Greed and anxiety top the list of this host of bandits, robbing the sheep of any sense of peace and security.
In this tonight’s reading, Jesus moves away from the thieves and bandits, and as the Good Shepherd, contrasts Himself with the hired hand, someone being paid to watch over the flock. There are many differences between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand, but there are two in particular that I want to lift before us this evening. They revolve around knowing and commitment.
The Good Shepherd knows the sheep and the hired hand does not. How is that possible? Wouldn’t the hired hand have to know that there were sheep in the field and how many sheep that are in the flock? Wouldn’t the hired hand have to know the difference between a sheep and the shepherd’s dog? Probably. But knowing that there are sheep and knowing how many sheep you are looking after, does not mean you know the sheep. We have to remember that in Biblical times, “knowing” meant a lot more than how we toss the word around. In Biblical times, knowing implied relationship. Remember, all the way back to Genesis when we read that “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…”[iv] While not always used in the sexual context, to know someone, to really know someone, implies that there is a relationship. Just as Jesus says, “As the Father knows me and I know the Father,” there is a deep abiding relationship. For the hired hand, there is knowledge of the sheep, and most like how many sheep…but that is as far as it goes. There is no relationship. The person is being paid to care, you take away the pay, the hired hand is gone. The sheep are mere objects, and if he or she does care what happens to one of the sheep, it is not out of concern for the sheep, but out of concern for what it might mean for their pay. The Good Shepherd, on the other hand, knows and loves the sheep. The Shepherd has a relationship with the sheep, and desires to deepen that relationship. That is how the Shepherd knows His sheep and how the sheep know the Shepherd’s voice. Time has been spent together, a relationship has grown.
With the relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep, a second difference between the Shepherd and the hired hand rises. For the Shepherd, there is commitment to the sheep, for the hired hand, there is a very good chance that when push comes to shove, there is no commitment. Caring for sheep was a dangerous job. Considering we have already differentiated between the Shepherd and the bandit or thief, we know that there were those to contend with. However, there were greater dangers than a thieves or bandits. We remember that when young David was convincing Saul that he could go out and fight Goliath, he spoke of how, as a shepherd boy, he had had to take on both lions and bears.[v] Shepherding was no piece of cake job…it was dangerous. Have you ever had a job that as you thought about what it was going to require of you, you either didn’t take it or walked away from it? Well, consider you are being paid to help a shepherd watch over some sheep…and you see a vicious wolf come in and make off with one of the lambs, what are you going to do? Are you willing to risk your life for someone else’s little lamb? Most likely not!
The Good Shepherd, on the other hand, has a relationship with his sheep and is deeply committed to them. He has a vested interest in the sheep and lives to protect those sheep he knows and cares so deeply for. The Shepherd, unlike the hired hand, is willing to lay down his life for the sake of the sheep. He will risk confronting the lion, bear, or wolf to save a little lamb.
Jesus lives out this promise as the Gospel of John progresses. The Jewish police force who helped arrest Jesus in the Garden did not take Jesus’ life from him. Remember Jesus’ words to Peter after Peter struck the high priest servant’s ear with the sword, “’Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”[vi] When Pilate confronted Jesus saying, “’Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above….”[vii] Jesus goes to the cross voluntarily to offer up His life as the Good Shepherd, so that we, His sheep, might be rescued from the greatest enemy any could ever encounter—not the Sanhedrin, not the Roman Empire, but the enemies of sin and death themselves—Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down might life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”[viii]
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep. We are called to follow the Good Shepherd as sheep who know His voice and are called into relationship with Him. And though we will never be the ultimate Shepherd, in following Jesus, we are called to be good shepherds in His Name. If there is any doubt that we are to become shepherds, Jesus erases that doubt in his post-resurrection conversation with Peter:
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”[ix]
What does it mean that we are to follow Jesus as sheep becoming shepherds…it means we are to continue to heed His voice, following Him…it means caring for those He entrusts to us…it means that our commitment to our Jesus is not only about our relationship with Him, but also about our relationship with our brothers and sisters in the faith…the lambs and sheep we are called to tend to and feed. It means that we are deeply connected to one another and we are to know and be committed to one another…not seeing one another as objects, or folks who might put some money in the collection plate, but as valued members of the flock…it means that when we see a need in their lives or the life of the church we are willing to lay down our lives---maybe that means organ donation, maybe it means confronting a wolf if someone is in danger of being attacked, maybe it means running into a burning building if someone is trapped inside, or maybe it simply means being willing to give of our time if a brother or sister needs help (even if it means, or maybe especially when it means, that we don’t get to do something that we had planned or wanted to do). It means putting the care of God’s sheep—one another, ahead of our own lives—remembering that regardless of our sacrifice, the Good Shepherd’s was greater, and just as God raised Him up, He promises to raise us from whatever sacrifice we make in His Name.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] John 20:21
[ii] 1st Corinthians 12:27
[iii] Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15a
[iv] Genesis 4:1
[v] 1st Samuel 17:34-35
[vi] John 18:11
[vii] John 19:11
[viii] John 10:17-18
[ix] John 21:15-19