Posted on in Sermons by The Rev. David Marshall
Year B, 4th Sunday of Easter
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.”
That phrase is one of the most beloved in Christian scripture. Christian art is full of depictions of shepherds. We imagine a handsome, curly haired young man with a kind face carrying a lamb across his shoulders. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then we must be the sheep. He protects us with his life. We will recognize him and follow him.
As beautiful and comforting as the image of the shepherd carrying the lamb across his shoulders may be, that is not what Jesus was talking about. Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will protect and call the sheep, but when Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, he is actually condemning his audience, calling them bad and corrupt shepherds. The entire Good Shepherd discourse is a response to the Pharisees who have cast out the man who was born blind for claiming that Jesus healed him. Jesus goes to the man after he has been cast out and welcomes him. That’s when the Pharisees challenge Jesus and Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.
In the Hebrew Scriptures references to shepherds are almost always about the kings and rulers of Israel. The king is the shepherd of the people. So, the first thing to know about Jesus as the Good Shepherd is that this is a very political claim.
Jesus makes this claim in the midst of a debate with the Pharisees. The entire Good Shepherd discourse is a challenge to the Pharisees and their leadership. They have claimed to be the leaders and spiritual guides to the Jews. They have claimed the role of shepherd, but they have not cared for their sheep. They have put up barriers to God instead of leading more people to God. They have cast out the man who had been blind rather than giving thanks to God for his healing.
This is a political challenge. Not only does Jesus claim to be the rightful leader, the good leader of the Jews, he goes further and claims that God is calling others as well: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. Who are these other sheep?
God works through Jesus to invite us to enjoy abundant life. We have heard his voice and follow him. We self-identify as members of Jesus’ flock. We put our trust in Jesus and declare him to be our shepherd. But there has been a lot of history between the time Jesus walked this earth and now. In fact, Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience when he spoke these words.
When Jesus says, “I have other sheep not of this fold” to the Jews, he was talking about us. We were the other sheep, and now we are members of his flock. As members of his flock, we experience God’s love and the abundant life that comes from living in gratitude to God. But that is not the end. We are not the end of Jesus’ mission.
Jesus said, “I have other sheep, not of this fold.” That is still true today. God is still calling people from all walks of life, from every nation, from every race, people of all kinds, to become members of the “one flock” under “one shepherd.” As members of that flock, God is using us to call the other sheep.
This is still a political message. In this Easter season we talk about resurrection life as the abundant life that Jesus makes possible through his death and resurrection. That death was a political event. The resurrection is the clearest sign possible that God’s love is more powerful than empire.
The life most people live is poor in spirit, striving for things that will not give comfort, putting hope in power and wealth. We buy guns to feel safe and giant flat screen televisions to feel comfort. That is not the life Jesus offers.
God is at work in and through us, as members of Jesus’ flock, to extend the invitation to abundant life to other sheep. God is at work in you and through you to reveal to other sheep that the divine is present in creation and in humanity. We recognize the divine in Jesus, and in doing so we learn to see the divine in humanity. That is the gift Jesus gives us. Jesus reveals true humanity to the world by fulfilling God’s hope and purpose for humanity. Now, when we see true humanity in others we recognize Christ in them. When we live our true humanity we reveal Christ to others.
The Jews Jesus was speaking to could never have imagined you or me as the other sheep. Jesus taught first in Jewish synagogues. He healed people in Jewish towns. He first fed Jewish crowds. He was Messiah to the Jews. Messiah was a completely Jewish concept. And yet, in this passage, he reveals that the Messiah, the Good Shepherd, comes to call all of us, all nations and all peoples, into the abundant life that God offers.
Those first Jews, even the disciples, could not have imagined you or me as the other sheep that Jesus would call into his flock, and we cannot imagine the other sheep that God is calling now. This may feel a little threatening, but I believe that it is actually good news.
God is still reaching out in new and powerful ways to call other sheep into abundant life. Our role, as members of Jesus’ flock, is to embrace the abundant life that Jesus offers, recognizing that God is using our lives and our actions to invite others to faith. This message of abundant life is certainly hopeful and comforting, but the message is still political. Abundant life is found when we put our trust in God rather than in empire.
When you pray for someone or invite them to church, you are the instrument God is using to call the other sheep into the one flock under one shepherd. When we follow Jesus and practice forgiveness, we become examples of the abundant life Jesus promises.
If you want to know who the other sheep may be, ask who has been cast out like the man born blind that Jesus first healed and then welcomed. Jesus went to people who had been cast out, marginalized, and excluded and offered them God’s love.
When we feed people at Tent City 3 or here at our community dinner, we are extending abundant life to people who have been abandoned, excluded, or cast out by empire.
When we offer compassion, generosity, and love, God is working through us to bring other sheep into the fold.
When we host the people of Tent City 3 on our property, God just may be working through us to extend abundant life to other sheep.
When we recognize and honor the humanity of others, and treat them as sisters and brothers, God is working through us to bring other sheep into the one flock under one shepherd: The Good Shepherd. Jesus.
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
April 26, 2015