Easter 2 — The Good Shepherd

1 St. Peter 2:19–25
St. John 10:11–16

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Let us begin with a reading of our complete text for the day, an extension of the Gospel lesson:

John 10:1–16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13  The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.  16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

This is the first part of the familiar parable of the Christ the Good Shepherd. This is one of the most popular images of Jesus, a term that is used in the name of countless Churches. But how well do we really understand this parable?

We might backtrack to ask, “How much do we know about sheep? When was the last time you saw a live lamb on the hoof?” Most of us don’t have much experience with sheep because we are city people in modern America, and sheep are simply not a part of our lives. I think I have seen sheep up close on a few occasions, but I could not tell you exactly when those times were. And yet, sheep and shepherding are constantly a part of the Biblical narrative. Recall Psalm 23:1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want, as just one of the many examples. You will recall also that a lamb was the standard sacrifice for sin at the Temple in Jerusalem. Sheep and shepherds are everywhere we look throughout the Bible, and we have to have some understanding of them to make sense of the Scripture, even if we are city people.

Sheep are extremely docile animals, and apparently rarely make a sound, even though they are able to speak. They are rather timid, and really do best when cared for by man. They are trusting, easily led, and rather dependent creatures. When well cared for, they produce generous crops of wool that they give up willingly and they do not fight even when being led to slaughter for meat.

The sheepfolds of the ancient Mideast were walled structures, open to the sky, with a single door. Sometimes these were in the open pasture lands, and other times they might be attached to the owner’s home. These served as a place to confine and protect the sheep for a period when the shepherd might be away. On his return, the shepherd would open the gate blocking the single door and call his sheep out. If two flocks might have been put into the sheepfold together, the shepherd’s own sheep would come out in response to his voice, but the other sheep would not follow him because he would be a stranger to them.

The Scripture we are considering this morning, appears to be a continuation of the discussion that Jesus has been having with a group of Pharisees in Chapter 15. The opening words, “Verily, verily,” suggest a continuation, rather than the beginning of a new episode, and with these words, Jesus begins the parable. Now remember that a parable is a veiled or hidden teaching, so the meaning of the words is not what is right on the surface.

Jesus says, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. Now no doubt the Pharisees would have thought, “There he goes again, talking in riddles. Who said anything about a sheepfold?” What is Jesus talking about here? The Pharisees, as we know, were very wound up in their own legalistic approach to Judaism, keeping all 613 Mosaic laws, etc. But in addition to that, they saw themselves as the maintainers of Judaism itself, the ministers of the true religion of Yahweh. A major part of their dispute with Jesus was that he had not “obtained a licence” from them before beginning His public ministry, as they thought was necessary. They were the established religious authority, and anyone who wanted to be an itinerant preacher, healer, or whatever, needed their approval before engaging in such activity. Jesus had not gotten proper authorization, an operating permit, so to speak, so that even before he began criticizing them, he was in trouble with them.

Jesus explains in vv 7–9: Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, and to anyone that pretends to be a minster of God without coming through Jesus Christ, that they are all thieves and robbers that come in over the wall. Jesus is both the door, and the one who comes in by the door. The Pharisees and various false prophets had all come before Jesus, and he is calling them all out, saying that none of them are valid. Only those who come through Christ are valid ministers of God. This remains true today, just as it was true in that conversation with the Pharisees 2000 years ago.

Christ then goes on to contrast the thief with Himself in v. 10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Those who come, pretending to be ministers of God but without the Spirit of Christ do in fact come to tear down the Church – to steal, to kill, and to destroy. There are numerous glaring examples of this, such as the TV evangelists who are suddenly brought down by personal scandal. But there are also more subtle, much less obvious examples of ministers whose heads have been turned by the world, by power, by authority, that have led them to compromise the Gospel. These too steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus comes that the Church might have life, because it is only through Him that we have life at all. And He comes to give it to us, and to give it more abundantly.

Then we have Jesus famous statement, 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. He is saying that He is going to die for His Church, although no one in the crowd that day would have understood it that way. He is referring to His coming sacrifice on the Cross, the time when He would give up His life for the sins of the whole world, and particularly for His sheep. The crowd no doubt thought he was simply describing the way a good shepherd responds to a crises threatening the sheep.

Then follow two very interesting verses: 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13  The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.  Let us remember that the sheep are the Church, and the shepherds are the pastors of the Church. Earlier in this passage Jesus spoke of false ministers, now he is speaking of weak, unfit ministers. I would like to relate a contemporary example of just this exact sort of thing.

It has been just over 30 years since the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. That episode lasted just about a week before it was brought under control, if memory serves correctly. At that time, there was a particular young woman living a few miles from the Three Mile Island nuclear plant who was several months pregnant. Within a day or two of the beginning of the accident, the announcement was made that pregnant women should leave the area until things were cleared up, so this woman packed up and went away for the duration. The problem with that was that this same woman was the Pastor of a Lutheran parish very close by, and her parishioners needed her support during this catastrophic event. They could not leave; most of them worked at the plant and were needed to deal with the emergency. But the hireling fleeth, because (s)he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. This is rather clearly not modeled on the Good Shepherd!

Jesus then reasserts his relation with His sheep and also His relation with the Father, saying, I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.  Jesus is saying that He knows each one of us by name, just as the Good Shepherd necessarily would do. Whether His flock is small or large is immaterial; He knows us all by name, just as we know Him. We know Him, and we know that we can trust Him. This is a fundamental part of our faith. If we do not trust Jesus, then we really do not have faith in Jesus, nor do we know Him. But we do know Him, and we do trust Him, because we have seen that He is the Good Shepherd that has already laid down His life for us. We also know that Jesus knows the Father. We have seen Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan,  the events in the Garden of Gethsemane leading up to the Crucifixion, the Crucifixion itself, the Resurrection and Ascension, we have a long string of witnesses to the unity of Jesus with the Father and the Holy Ghost.

And then the final verse, 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. No doubt the Jews would have said to themselves, “Who or what is He talking about?” The answer, of course is Us, the Gentiles. Although Jesus preached almost exclusively to the Jews, it is completely clear that His intent was that His message would be carried further, carried to the Gentiles and to the whole world. The most conclusive evidence of this is, of course, found in St. Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Let us be ever so grateful for this!

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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