John 10: 1-10
Good Shepherd Sunday

 Today is often called Good Shepherd Sunday, because each year on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we always read the 23rd Psalm and a section from the 10th Chapter of John, which has come to be known as “The Good Shepherd Discourse”. The image of God as shepherd is an ancient and well known one.  Those who had leadership responsibility to care for others were seen as the shepherds of the people, as it were.   The 23rd Psalm describes the Lord God as the ultimate shepherd, you could say.  The shepherd’s role is to be the care provider for the sheep; to ensure that they have sufficient food and water, -- green pastures and still water, that they are safe from predation –that’s what the rod and staff are for--and shepherds provide care when the sheep are ill or hurt.  The Lord, the Shepherd protects and provides for those in his flock, and provides abundantly—more than we need, that’s what the image of the cup running over means.   Obviously Jesus would have understood the concept of leaders as shepherds and of course would have known the 23rd Psalm.   In chapter 10 of John’s gospel, Jesus really expands on this shepherding metaphor, and applies it to himself.  In verse 11, which wasn’t included in our reading for today, Jesus even says “I am the Good Shepherd.” Now, what is very interesting is the placement of this Good Shepherd’s Discourse in John’s Gospel. It’s not a coincidence that it comes right after John tells the story of Jesus’ healing of the man who was born blind.  We read that story on the fourth Sunday of Lent.   According to Karoline Lewis, a scholar on John’s Gospel, and a  favourite commentator of mine, the two stories are inexorably linked—we must look at the Good Shepherd Discourse in light of the healing of the blind man.  She suggests we consider “... how do the shepherd and sheep possibly have anything to do with the healing of the blind man?  ... what does it mean that Jesus chose this portrait of himself when it come to interpreting the healing of the man born blind...?” [1] Let’s see if I can answer those questions for you!  A quick recap of that story will be helpful.  It is a Sabbath day, and as Jesus and his disciples are walking along the road, they pass by a beggar, who was born blind.   Jesus stops, spits on the ground, puts this mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash the mud off.  Which the man does and miraculously, he can see!  People can’t believe this sighted guy is the same blind beggar.  The once blind man is called before a tribunal of temple authorities on three occasions to testify to his new found vision—they even call the blind man’s parents to testify to his blindness, yet still the Pharisees—the temple authorities cannot or will not believe that the healing was done by Jesus, because their laws say only God can heal on the Sabbath, which made Jesus equal to God, plus this kind of healing has never been done before.  They even throw the newly sighted man out of the synagogue because he tells the tribunal “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. ... Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  (John 9: 30-33) The temple authorities had already decreed that anyone claiming Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.  Well, the temple authorities kick him out of the temple, which means he is also kicked out of his community, effectively socially isolating him completely from his family and friends.  Jesus hears this and goes looking for him. When he finds him, he asks him if he believes in the Son of Man, which was Jesus name for himself.  The newly sighted man asks Jesus to tell him who that person is, and Jesus says to him, “the one who is speaking to you is he”.  (John 9. 37)  The man replies “Lord I believe”.  He knew Jesus is of God, and now he understands Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of Man.  And he becomes one of Jesus’ followers. Jesus comes across some Pharisees who question him about this miracle and he tells them point blank they are being willfully blind to the truth right before their eyes, the truth of who he is.   And this now leads us into the Good Shepherd Discourse, Chapter 10.  Jesus says to them: “... anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!”  Jesus is telling the religious authorities that they are being less than honest in their dealings with the people in their flocks, they are profiting off them, rather than caring for them as a true shepherd is called to do.  Jesus said the shepherd calls his own sheep, calls them by name and leads them out.  You’ve heard my experiences with our sheep, and how on the occasional times when I do chores, they won’t come when I call them, because I am a stranger to them.  Sheep do come to know the voice of their shepherds, and they will come when called, and will follow their shepherd.  It is in the sheep’s nature to follow.  Every flock has a lead ewe that leads them in and out of the barn to pasture, but even the lead ewe will follow the voice of the shepherd, because they’ve learned to trust the one who cares and provides for them.  The once blind man heard Jesus’ voice before he could see him.  He let Jesus put mud on his eyes, he heard Jesus say, go and wash. And what happened?  His sight returned, he went from the life of a street beggar –which was all that life offered blind people in those days, to being a fully functioning sighted person. Jesus healed him.   And when his community rejected him, Jesus went looking for him and found him, then revealed to him that he was God’s son.  He became one of Jesus’ disciples, Jesus provides him with a whole new community, a life of abundance in Christ’s community of love and care! There’s a promise here --  when we hear Jesus’ voice, and obey Jesus’ commands, what happens?  A life of abundance, a new life.  That doesn’t necessarily mean a problem free life; imagine the challenges the once blind man may have had to deal with to suddenly live in a sighted world, and to become a member of a new community.  His new life would most definitely have had its challenges!  But remember, the shepherd carries the rod and staff to protect the sheep, and leads the way to green pastures and water.   In the dry and arid Middle East, green pastures and sufficient water would have been a luxury! Next Jesus changes up the metaphors.  He said the shepherd goes into the sheep enclosure through the gate, not like thieves, dishonestly hopping over the wall or fence. The gatekeeper is like a doorman, he knows the shepherd and will admit him, the shepherd can be trusted. The gatekeeper won’t admit someone he doesn’t know, which is why the bandits have to hop the fence to get the sheep.  Now, before you think that sounds a bit strange, it really does happen.  We know shepherds who have had their lambs stolen right out of their pasture fields.  I guess that happened in Jesus’ day too!   So what’s Jesus saying here?  He’s calling the religious authorities bandits, they are not making honest claims, or being honest in their dealings with the sheep.  Even today we hear of stories of so-called pastors-- who profit off of the folk in their ‘flocks’ with dishonest claims and outright lies! Next, the story takes another verbal twist.  Jesus says “I am the gate.”  Now, the Greek word that is translated to gate in English is actually the word for door, but in keeping with the agricultural motif here, it gets translated to gate.   How can Jesus be a gate or a door?  And what is that supposed to mean?  Well, let’s think for a minute.  What does a gate do?  It keeps some things out and other things in, for example keeping the sheep inside the enclosure safe from predators.  Or, think of it like locking the door of your house.  The locked door provides protection and security.  Jesus as the gate, offers us protection from the things that can prey on us, things that can pull us away from the safety of being in his flock.  Faith in Jesus, life with Jesus, listening and obeying the ways of Jesus’ teachings not only provides us abundant life, but keeps us safe from the harms and evils that society can pull us into.  And God knows, there are many negative influences out there that can draw us away from God’s ways! Jesus is the shepherd, and the gate.  Jesus can be many things, things that we need to be Jesus’ people. In a world where we have so many voices constantly flooding us, clamouring for our attention, bombarding us with information telling us we will become healthier, richer, more knowledgeable, more attractive if you just do this, or buy that, or take this food or that pill,  you could say that these are the voices of the pretend shepherds, the bandits Jesus called them.  They’re vying for our attention and our dollars, of course, by making us false promises, false assurances of what it takes to make us secure, happy and peaceful.   True happiness, true peace and feelings of security cannot be bought, these come from God, from Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  So, a good question for today then is whose voice are we listening to?  How do we hear Jesus’ voice, how do we hear the voice of our true shepherd in the clamour of all the false shepherds?  Well, to hear Jesus, we need to really start listening.  Take time away from the clamouring voices that can drown out Jesus’ voice.  Turn off the screens, close the papers and magazines.  Take some time in nature, when and if you can.   Walk a trail, or even the quiet of a cemetery!   Read the bible, -- a modern translation is easier to understand, and hear the words Jesus says like he’s talking to you!   Dedicate some time each day to sit with Jesus, first thing in the morning or just before bedtime are always good times.  That’s what prayer is you know, just talking to Jesus.  Even 10 minutes a day!  Not sure how to do that?  Daily prayer books can be most helpful.  Or start off with a prayer you know by heart--the Lord’s prayer is always a good one!  Use those prayer beads we made.  Begin by giving thanks for gifts God has given you, and then just share your concerns with Jesus, about yourself, or others who you know need comfort and love.  And then stay quiet for a bit; remember to give some time to listen!  That’s the hard part for me too, sitting quietly long enough to hear.  It’s a discipline, and something I need to constantly work on. When we are in Jesus’ flock, we are under the care of the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd and Jesus provides us the protection from the pretenders—those bandits who only want us for what we can provide for them! When we stand behind Jesus, we are protected as one of his flock, under his leadership, and his abundant, loving and gracious care.  Amen   [1] Karoline Lewis John (Fortress Press: Minneapolis;MN) 2014 137