4 Easter – April 26, 2015
Today is often called Good Shepherd Sunday and this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd tends to give most of us a warm and fuzzy feeling of comfort. I have in my own home a picture of Jesus holding a sheep for that reason. You may be surprised to know that this discourse from John’s gospel actually emerges out of a conflict Jesus has with the religious authorities which begins in chapter 9. Today, Jesus is continuing a conflict with the religious authorities, which they have started with the man born blind after Jesus has restored the man’s sight. When the authorities cast the man out, Jesus finds him and receives him as his own — his “sheep” in the rhetorical landscape of John 10. The man born blind receives not only physical sight but also spiritual insight, while Jesus tells the powerful opponents that in their insistence that they are able to see, they remain spiritually blind. He illustrates the conflict of John 9 in John 10 with the contrasting images of the true, good shepherd, on the one hand, and the thieves and bandits who oppose him on the other; the false shepherds, who do not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climb in by another way, do not have the best interests of the sheep at heart; they steal, kill, and destroy, while Jesus, who is metaphorically both the door to the sheepfold and the shepherd of the sheep, offers abundant life.
The Pharisees who, in their encounter with the formerly blind man, reveal themselves to be uncaring about the blind man and heedless of the truth. Their actions are selfish, and have nothing to do with love of God or man. The formerly blind man not only refuses to follow them but also courageously opposes them. Even though he was blind, now he sees clearly–and he sees that Jesus, not the Pharisees, is the good shepherd–that Jesus deserves his trust.
Barclay, a biblical commentator, notes that there are two Greek words for good. The first is agathos, which “simply describes the moral quality of a thing.” The second is kalos (used in our verse for today), “which means that a thing or a person is not only good; but in the goodness there is a quality of winsomeness, loveliness, attractiveness which makes it a lovely thing.” Barclay then likens the phrase “the good shepherd” to the phrase “the good doctor.” When people speak of the good doctor, “they are not thinking only of the doctor’s efficiency and skill as a physician; they are thinking of the sympathy and the kindness and the graciousness which he brought with him, and which made him the friend of all. In the picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd there is loveliness as well as strength and power” (Barclay, 71).
Have you ever had a “fair weather friend” – someone who was fun to be with and do things with, but when the going got rough and you needed understanding and support, was nowhere to be found? We’ve all had friends like that, haven’t we?
A fair weather friendship is a conditional friendship. It works as long as things are going well. But when things go awry, as they often do – when your out of money and out of luck and, perhaps, down on yourself as a result, and you really need someone to lean on, someone to be there for you – that’s when you know who your real friends are.
True friendship is unconditional and unrestrained. It says, “I love you,” not when, or if, or because; but simply, “I love you.”
The hired hand sees trouble coming and is nowhere to be found. He flees because he’s a hired hand – a fair weather friend – and he really doesn’t care at all, he’s only in it for himself, for what he can get out of the relationship. By contrast, the Good Shepherd is there for us through thick and thin. In fact, the Good Shepherd is especially there for us when we have nowhere else to turn. When Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” he not only invites us to trust him and know that he’ll be there for us; he invites us to become more Christ-like ourselves and to be there for each other as good shepherds in his name.
Jesus is the good shepherd because he is the source of abundant life, first to the man born blind, giving him a new existence, new life — he is a new creation, a child of God (1:1; 12-13). Jesus is the good shepherd because he finds the man born blind after the blind man has been thrown out (9:35) which the disciples need to hear because they too will be thrown out (12:42; 16:1-2) and which they need to remember because Jesus found them (1:43). Jesus is the good shepherd because he knows his sheep and he calls them by name (Lazarus, 11:43; Mary Magdalene, 20:16). Jesus is the good shepherd because before he goes to the cross, he lays down his life by coming out of the garden, the fold, leaving his sheep protected and safe in the garden, giving himself up (no kiss from Judas) for the sake of his disciples, his sheep (18:4). Jesus is the good shepherd because he will take up his life again in the resurrection AND the ascension, the resurrection being our promise of life here and now (11:25) and the promise of life in our future; the ascension being the abiding place that Jesus prepares for the ones he loves (1:18; 13:23; 14:2).
That is what’s good about a shepherd.
And, I do think we can say with confidence that God is not done yet, that God works in ways beyond our imagining to bring together one flock, and that Jesus Christ’s mercy and grace are for all. God continues to call people from all walks of life, from every nation on the face of the earth, and from each and every generation across the two thousand years since Jesus first uttered those words until today. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Amen.