Good Morning! It’s good to be back! Being here again reminds me of Yogi Bara’s words: it’s deja vue all over again! A few weeks ago just after the Parkland shooting I gave a sermon about the urgency of our mandate to take action against guns and violence in our communities and schools. One person came up to me later and said that she was troubled by the image of Jesus as a political person and that she was much more comfortable with Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
After that conversation, I thought a lot about the image of the Good (kalos, model, ideal) Shepherd in my life (*) and I’ve realized a couple of things, first from the earliest time this image of Jesus along with his healing, dominated my picture of him. There was that stained glass window in the Methodist church where I grew up, Jesus with a lamb over his shoulders. Church school. The king of love my shepherd is. Sentimental, loving. And something else, this image more closely corresponded to my needs, and my one on one personality. And the image of this Shepherd was always about ME! Just me! But now, as I’ve thought about this Good Shepherd image in the Gospels, it strikes me that wherever Jesus is tending to the needs the lost and lonely, he’s also making a political judgement against those who should care for the poor but are not. His actions were always political, counter-cultural!
Today’s Gospel makes this clear. First, Jesus is the model shepherd because other shepherds, the hired hands, let’s say the religious leaders, have abandoned the flock, the poor. They’ve enjoyed their own comforts, run away when there was danger. Ezekiel 34 (below). Jesus way is a challenge to the establishment!
The second thing about shepherd is that he is the shepherd of a flock, not just individuals. This is a rather painful realization for me. “Jesus lover of my soul” No, it’s not about me alone, but about the flock; as a group the Shepherd is intimate with us, knows us, loves us, and as a flock we hear his voice. In fact we probably can hear his voice at least in part (maybe only) because we know and listen to each other. And there are other sheep who are a part of this flock, (Jesus’ way is inclusive) we are on a spiritual journey not just individually, but with each other, lots of others, some like us, many very unlike us, but we all know that one voice that makes us a universal community.
And finally, Jesus says the one thing that sets the shepherd apart is that he or she is willing to risk his life, to lay down his life for the sheep, intentionally, consciously, with unwavering compassion. John is the only Gospel author who uses this phrase, and in our text today he uses it 5 times. We know ultimately what it meant for Jesus: his resources, his hours and days, his compassion were given without counting the cost. Danger and death did not hold him back because he had intimacy with his Father. He chose to jump into the fray. This is what love looks like. It’s political, social, personal, inclusive all at once.
The first lines of John 1 describe out mandate today. Read these lines at home, write a letter to yourself, what they mean for you, and be ready to “jump more deeply into the fray yourselves: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we (too) ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us then love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Amen.
Ezekiel 34 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.