A sermon given on John 10:11-18 by the Rev. Dr. Bob Brown…
Unlike many others, at our house, we are not fans of network television series. Our TV watching is pretty much limited to news, sports, a few travel or cooking shows, and the occasional British mystery on public television. It is our usual practice to set the DVR to record the programs we choose, and then watch at our convenience.
Recently, we watched one of our shows, and the episode included a favorite stuffed toy without which a young child could not go to sleep. This toy was lost several times, and each time it was a full-fledged calamity!
To those of us who have been blessed with children, it was an all too familiar scene. All of us remember that stuffed toy, or a favorite blanket, or other such familiar object that gave a young child tremendous comfort. And this is not limited to children. Each of us has a favorite shirt or chair, or some dish that gives us enormous comfort. After all, that is why they call it “comfort food”!
No image brings more emotion to mind than that of our Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It gives us comfort in times of trouble, and lifts our spirits in the good times. It evokes what we know about Jesus as the loving and caring and devoted embodiment and incarnation of the Father himself.
This image is so familiar that the bishop’s staff, called a crosier, is in the shape of a shepherd’s crook. The reference being that the bishop is the shepherd of his flock, which includes all of the clergy and people of the diocese.
And this image is present throughout the Hebrew Testament. We see it in Amos 3, in Exodus 22, again in Samuel 17, and yet again in Isaiah 31. We also see this image in Matthew and Acts in the New Testament, and this, of course, is not an exhaustive list.
Now, it is necessary to set the stage, to give some context to these words of Jesus. “I am the good shepherd.”
If we look back to John 9, we find that Jesus has recently healed the man who was blind from birth. He gave him his sight. This is one of the miracles performed by our Lord that is well documented. And the Pharisees, being keen to retain their influence and power, are beyond skeptical. They actively encourage people not to believe, and question the condition of the poor man who Jesus has healed.
In the gospel lesson today, Jesus is telling us that God always extends to us, his sheep, spiritual comfort. God is reliable, God is true, God knows each of us. And God is constant and never changing.
Here Jesus is drawing a contrast between himself and the Pharisees, and that contrast and difference could not be more graphic.
The role of the shepherd was well known to all people in ancient Israel.
Jesus is saying that, unlike the hired hands of the Sanhedrin, he is the genuine incarnation and representation of the Father. Being divine, he is not subject to sin, and, even though he may be tempted, will not forsake his mission and his flock.
When trouble comes, the shepherds who are hired hands are likely to flee, leaving the sheep to be devoured by the wolves. They are humans, and they are fallible and subject to sin.
And, unlike the good shepherd, the religious leaders of the day are very self-interested. After all, they have a position, and authority, and privilege, and wealth to protect. If it means sacrificing a few sheep to protect their status, then so be it.
But Jesus, being that Divine Good Shepherd, knows all of his sheep, and will protect them, even unto death!
And this should bring us great spiritual comfort! Jesus, being the incarnation of the Father, exhibits the lovingkindness of God. He will always care for us, and never abandon us, no matter what may come.
And Jesus foretells his own fate and sacrifice. He says that true love is laying down his life for his flock. Jesus says that he can lay it down at his choosing, and take it up when he desires. This is a preview of his self-sacrificing death and glorious resurrection, although none of the disciples understand at this point what he is saying.
How appropriate in this season of Easter! Through the good shepherd death itself has been conquered!
But perhaps my favorite expression of our Lord in this exchange is the fact that he states, “I have other sheep.”
And who, do we ask are these other sheep? Why, of course, that is us! We in this later day, in our time. And Jesus knows us well! Jesus is speaking to those who, as part of ancient Israeli society, are part of the chosen people. But Jesus has come not only to save those who are chosen, but to offer the blessings and comfort of the Kingdom of God to us, as well!
And that leaves us with a question. It is our mission to emulate Christ, to become more like him. And in that endeavor, we must ask, “Who are our other sheep? How do we take the love and spiritual comfort of Jesus to others?”
In this season of hope and celebration, we must be mindful that Jesus has given us a true gift, and that gift must be shared.