The GOOD Shepherd
John 10:11-18

by | Apr 22, 2024

PRAYER: Jesus the Good Shepherd, you taught your disciples and you taught us what it means to be your followers. Remind us again today of your calling on our hearts that we may strive to be your church for an ever-evolving world. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Today, we read just a small section of the 10th chapter of John… only 8 verses. But within this small passage, we hear Jesus’ declarative statement that He is the good shepherd. Make no mistake: this is such an important declaration that he makes and, in so many ways, those 5 words, all by themselves summarize everything we need to know about Jesus. The danger is that if we take just this statement – that he is the good shepherd all by itself, we run the risk of losing much of the foundation of what prompted Jesus to make that statement in the first place. It didn’t happen in a vacuum.
For that, we have to go back to the previous chapter – chapter 9. “As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth.” The disciples asked Jesus a question that – in today’s day and age, we would see this as a really dumb question. I know we’re supposed to believe that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but in today’s world, this is a really dumb question: “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” Can you just picture Jesus putting his hand up to his head and gently massaging his temples at this one? Of course, we get none of that in the story. Jesus simply responds to the question. “Neither he nor his parents.” Jesus goes on to explain that this man is blind so that God’s mighty works may be displayed in him. It is here that Jesus makes one of his “I AM” statements that we will be studying starting next month. He says, “I am the light of the world.” And then to illustrate this, he restores the sight of the blind man. He enables him to see the light.
Well, when people encountered this man, that started a whole new set of problems. Friends and neighbors debated whether or not he was really healed, and then that led them to the Pharisees, which opened up another can of worms altogether.
“Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.” Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided.”
Those Pharisees were so caught up in the rules of religion that they interpreted with as little grace as possible, they were completely missing the miracle that was right in front of their faces. Rather than celebrate the fact that this man can now see, they debated whether or not he should be allowed to see, and then they actually expel him from the temple. All of this happens in chapter 9.
The one who was blind is the only one who truly sees. The ones who are supposed to be teaching… the ones who are supposed to be proclaiming and demonstrating God’s love for all are the ones who are blinded by their own egos and their own lust for authority. So when we come to the middle of chapter 10 today, we encounter Jesus… having a conversation with these self-righteous egotistical pharisees.
And with all of that background now filled in… listen one more time to what Jesus says to them from our reading: “I am the GOOD Shepherd. The GOOD shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. When the hired hand sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away.”
Do you hear the difference? Do you hear Jesus’ pointed tone? Jesus is looking right at these hypocritical pharisees and he’s telling them what’s what. He calls them nothing but hired hands that run and hide at the first sign of difficulty. They’re all about throwing their authority around when it suits them, but they’re not USING their authority for good, for the good of others. They’re only using it to benefit themselves. They are perfectly willing to throw around the authority of God… but when it comes to sharing the LOVE of God, they’re bankrupt.
The imagery of a shepherd would be well known for the people of the time. Jesus is using this imagery that is found prominently in the Hebrew Scriptures. Leaders like David or Moses are often referred to as shepherds of Israel. We read the 23rd Psalm – perhaps the most widely known imagery of a Shepherd. It’s an image that has brought comfort to countless people.
In the majority of those Hebrew Scripture passages that refer to a shepherd, they are referring directly to God as Israel’s chief shepherd. The human shepherds, like the pharisees, and quite frankly, like all of us, failed in more ways than we can probably count. So in the absence of a reliable shepherd, God promised to shepherd God’s people. Jesus proclaims himself not just a shepherd, but the good shepherd. Jesus reminds us that a good shepherd knows his flock and his flock knows him.
This is a very basic understanding of what it means to be a leader… not just in Jesus’ time on earth, but throughout all time. We’ve all seen examples of leadership that is either all about giving or all about taking. I used to have a boss at my last job who would stand in the middle of the floor and yell at everyone. He would point out everyone’s mistakes. He put everyone down. And in the event anyone did anything good, you’d better believe that this same boss… took all the credit.
Another boss I had was the complete opposite. When anyone made a mistake, they went into the office with the door closed and they heard about it… privately. And whenever anyone did something good, that’s when the boss would stand in the middle of the floor and heap praises on the person for a job well done.
One example of leadership just sucks the life out of you. The other example is life affirming. It’s positive; it fosters life and hope.
The realities of being uncivil, of self-interest and pettiness are present everywhere… in the corporate sector, in our politics, even in our churches. Greed, quick-fixes, and isolationism, the goal of profit-above-all-else are easy to find wherever we look. Who among us hasn’t known someone who strives for wealth or influence at the expense of compassionate strong leadership?
Like the people of Israel in Jesus’ time, we long for Good Shepherds who lead with grace, compassion, wisdom, and justice. The examples we have – Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi – inspire and challenge us and give us hope that the leadership our world needs is possible. The Easter vision calls us to use our influence to bring life to others, to serve others, and to work sacrificially for the good of our communities. It is this leadership alone that can make a positive difference to the great crises of our time at every level.
If we are to do that, then we need to recognize that resurrection life is not just a gift for our own personal salvation, but rather is a powerful energy that is intended to flow outward from Jesus, through us, outward, ever-outward toward others. It is an energy that brings life, wholeness and justice wherever it flows.
As such, the call to love one another sacrificially applies not just to those in leadership, but to every Christ-follower. The resurrection life we celebrate is meant to connect us with others and motivate us to seek their best, contributing in whatever way we can to a world of grace, peace, justice and love. As we seek to live Christ’s resurrected life together, our care and compassion has the potential to change the world in a profound way.
Think about the man in Chapter 9 that was the center of all the controversy in today’s reading in chapter 10. Jesus’ act of compassion changed the world… not necessarily on a global scale. Rather, Jesus changed the world… for him. The courage and commitment and the faith that we need to follow the movement of God’s spirit, and the life that God’s Spirit brings, can change the world for us.
The Good Shepherd knows us… more than we know ourselves. And the Good Shepherd’s unlimited compassion is the basis for God’s desire to restore and enliven us. God has a desire to challenge us in ways that make new life possible on personal, local, and global levels.
I want you to take comfort in the knowledge that you are known by the Good Shepherd. You are known – faults and all, and you are beloved. The Good Shepherd seeks to be in relationship with you and to offer you the new life that resurrection brings. The Good Shepherd is offering you a hope that cannot be manufactured, but it can be shared.
Any time our words and actions bring life, joy and peace to others, we share the resurrection hope. Any time we lay down our lives for one another, we manifest resurrection life. Then, as we connect with one another, we are able to bring life to our neighborhoods, impacting others with God’s care and grace. Proclaiming and demonstrating God’s healing love among brokenness.
There is a reality here that much of how we have structured and lived our faith as Christ followers may have become stagnant. Evolving and growing into new life is natural and needed. It’s a part of life that we constantly grow and expand beyond any barriers that serve only to limit the new life that Christ offers us.
From exclusive communities, we will need to learn acceptance and welcome. From being people of judgment and criticism, we will need to become people of love and forgiveness. From being those who focus only on a few issues that directly affect us, we will need to learn about and maybe even contribute to causes that bring life to people we may never meet. From being entirely inwardly focused, we will need to look up beyond our own limited vision and see the world as God sees it – through a lens of grace and hope. If we’re seeing the world through a lens of “us vs. them”, God is offering us resurrection healing and new life.
The life that resurrection brings cannot be contained. It breaks out wherever it can, and those who seek to live this new transformative life can only follow where it leads. When we try to contain it or control it, we only end up falling out of step with Christ. This means that every action, word and thought can be either the reflection of resurrection, or an obstacle to making it visible. The choice is ours – we can be Good Shepherds who care for and lay our lives down for those around us, or not.
And so my friends, as we strive to live as resurrected people, we cannot help but feel the connection that can exist with the world around us… the connection that brings the life of resurrection to the world. The connection that brings the life of resurrection to US!
Our starting point is right here and right now. It is personal and it is present today. It means that we are invited to take stock of how we are shepherding our own lives, our families, our friendships. We are invited to take stock in how we order our lives and seek to live in community with others. Anyone can be a shepherd. God calls us to embody the compassion and sacrificial care of the Good Shepherd.
To God be the glory.