Services Schedule: Sunday, April 29th will be Morning Prayer at 10am; Sunday, May 6th will be Holy Eucharist at 10am
EASTER IV - B - 18 JOHN 10. 11-18
Throughout the Church, the fourth Sunday of Easter is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.
Today’s collect, Psalm, and gospel all refer to the theme of the good shepherd. God’s people are often referred to as sheep throughout scripture, for their proneness to go astray, thus their need of a shepherd to guide and lead them.
It is the habit of the shepherd in the East to walk before the flock leading by his voice. The custom to giving names to the members of the flock is still in use; the flock recognizing the shepherd’s voice and answering to their names. A good shepherd will expose himself to the dangers of life in the protection of his flock whether it is against wild beasts or robbers.
Jesus says he is the good shepherd in contrast to the bad shepherds God’s people Israel have been laboring under prior to his coming. Not to lay it entirely on Israel’s leaders of Jesus’ day, the Old Testament is filled with images of both good and bad shepherds.
In Ezekiel 34, for example, things have gotten so bad as far as the leadership in Israel is concerned, that God prophesied that the day would come when he himself would shepherd Israel. He would no longer rely on those who called themselves shepherds who were in it for what they could get out of it for themselves.
St. John would say, that the prophesy has come true in Jesus. Today’s passage from the tenth chapter of John, wherein Jesus refers to himself as the “good shepherd,” is a continuation of his conversation with the Pharisees in Jerusalem.
In God’s eyes, these so-called shepherds of Israel have failed in their “pasturing of God’s people. Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd. Their leadership has been marked by deceit and pride and has lacked compassion. Christ, on the other hand, fulfills all virtue.
The very definition of a good shepherd is that he is not in it for himself or his own profit. In fact, the supreme test of what he is in it for will come when he is faced with a choice. The example Jesus uses is that of a wolf threatening the flock.
When the hireling, the bad shepherd, sees the wolf he runs away and leaves the sheep unprotected. Not so with the good shepherd. He is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus is making his own prediction here that will come true for him soon enough. The cross is always looming in the distance.
As this passage comes up every year, the same two images come to mind. Several years ago, I traveled to my homeland - Ireland. I was primarily in the South West portion of the island, which contains the highest mountain, Mount Brendan located near the Irish Sea.
There is a pass near the top of the mountain that takes you from the top to the sea below and offers an incredible photo opt. We naturally stopped there. As I looked up at the mountainside I could see that it was dotted with sheep grazing unmolested from top to bottom. There were literally hundreds of them.
I noticed on their flanks that they wore different colors. Some were marked with red paint, some blue, and others, of course, were green. There was local man parked there standing outside his truck. He was looking at the mountainside through a pair of binoculars. I asked if he was looking at anything particular. He replied, “I am looking at my sheep.”
I did not need binoculars to see that they were sheep, so I asked him “how do you know which ones are yours?” “By the color on their flanks,” he said. “Mine are marked with red paint.” That is a different kind of shepherding I thought to myself, a long distance one at best.
Jesus tells us that he is the “good shepherd” who knows his own and they know him. There is an intimacy implied in his words that was absent as I watched and listened to the local shepherd standing next to me. I got the impression that for him, the sheep he was looking at through his binoculars were merely for profit.
An intimacy and caring that was absent in the so-called shepherds of Israel Jesus is addressing in today’s gospel who lacked compassion for those whom God had entrusted in their care. They had become corrupted by the authority God had given them to “pastor” his people and were in it for their own status and glory.
You and I may not be marked, as those sheep on the Irish mountainside were marked, but we are marked with the sign of the cross, an indelible mark that the world may not see, but one, which God always sees. God knows his own and they know him.
The second image that always comes to my mind when I read or hear this passage is a particular stain glass window in the South transept of Grace Church, Monroe. As I used to stand addressing the people, I often found myself glancing over at it. It was both a visual inspiration and a vivid reminder that “there is salvation in no one else.”
It is a life size depiction of Jesus as the “good shepherd” with a flock of sheep following him. He has his pastoral staff in hand and a lamb over his shoulder, one that had been lost but is now found. An image is worth a thousand words as they say.
That image has always evoked two thoughts for me personally. I try to see myself and present myself as a shepherd, following his example. One who knows his people and are known by them. One who is willing, come what may, to protect them from “wolves” that would destroy their faith and scatter the flock. However, more often than not I relate to the lamb over the “good shepherd’s shoulder.
For as much as we may strive to live our lives following in His most blessed footsteps, we all go astray, and wander from the path of righteousness. It is the “good shepherd” who seeks us out and finds us, who leads us back to green pastures and restores our soul. As the Psalmist says, “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. (Ps 95.7)
What image does today’s passage evoke in you? How do you see Jesus? Do you see Him as the shepherd and guardian of your soul? We should, as the author of Acts reminds us, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”