This coming Sunday is knows as Good Shepherd Sunday because our Gospel is the well known “Good Shepherd” story, where in John 10:11 Jesus is quoted as saying “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” In an interesting twist, however, our Gospel reading stops just sort of this verse, ending with verse 10. Regardless of the fact that we don’t actually hear the phrase “The Good Shepherd” used in the Liturgy, the understanding of Jesus in the roll of “Shepherd” is well understood, and perhaps in avoiding the often used quote, we have an opportunity to better understand the context of the story, because it’s not so much about Jesus’ roll as shepherd but how we as “sheep” responding to our shepherd’s call.
The Word for the 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
1 Peter 2:20b-25
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles picks up shortly after where we left off last week. As we remember, Peter was speaking to the crowd in Jerusalem about Jesus and the events that are still fresh on their minds with his trial and crucifixion. This week we pick up the narrative with Peter, very much filled with the Spirit, explaining to the crowd what they must to in order to be saved… that is, to repent and be baptized. Though no direct shepherd imagery is depicted here, the message is clear that salvation comes from following Jesus. It is in our Psalm that we get our first vision of “shepherd” with the often heard Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
Our second reading, continuing our study of 1 Peter, reminds us that we have “gone astray like sheep” and need to return to our “Shepherd and guardian.” Here Peter is reminding us that in our journey of following Christ we may experience suffering along the way, but in those times we also have an example in Christ, who through his own suffering enabled us to be redeemed. We are reminded that the mission Jesus took on was because we had strayed, so like a shepherd, Jesus came to gather us together.
Our Gospel from John continues on the “lost sheep” theme. Here we are reminded that all sheep know the voice of their shepherd and will follow him. In this case, Jesus is the shepherd, and those “sheep” that follow his voice are the ones who will be allowed into paradise. A shepherd, by the nature of their job, is also the gate keeper to their pens. Only those sheep who recognize the shepherd’s call will come to the gate, but the shepherd also knows his own sheep, so those whom he doesn’t know will not be let in. It’s a reciprocal relationship… the sheep know their shepherd, and the shepherd knows their sheep. For those familiar with the trade of shepherding, like many of John’s audience, this is a clear image that makes sense. But John’s message, like so much of John’s gospel, speaks both on the surface and on a much deeper level. Jesus is clear in explaining that those who are HIS sheep will be let in, but those who are pretenders will not. It is these pretenders to whom John is serving notice… that Jesus as the gate keeper knows his sheep, and those who are not following him will not be let in. Jesus continues to say that those who try to force their way in are like thieves and robbers. This rebuke is directed at the religious establishment who by Jesus’ view, are failing in their mission to be good shepherds. While verse 11, which we don’t hear today, reinforces the idea of what a good shepherd does, I think the important take away for today is not the role of Jesus is in this scenario, but how well we are playing our role as sheep, which if we take out verse 11, brings our focus back to what is expected as us as sheep, rather than what is expected of the shepherd.
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