Skip to main content

4th Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday

Shepherd imagery and references  are found throughout scripture.  Moses was following a lost sheep when he first encountered God in the burning bush, David was out tending the sheep when Samuel came looking for a new king for Israel.  Even Jesus made references to shepherds and sheep in his teachings and parables because it allowed him to connect with his audience.  This imagery is so rooted in our societal DNA that it still resonates through our modern urban cultural experience.  This coming 4th Sunday of Easter is better as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because we hear the very popular and beloved story of the Good Shepherd from John’s Gospel.


Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
1 Peter 2:20b-25
John 10-1-10

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.  Our Psalm reflects what Peter is preaching as we sing the favorite 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.  

Final thoughts:

Any number of scholars and theologians have speculated on how and why Christianity spread as it did throughout the world, and still continues to do so today.  I believe it is due in part to Gospel stories like this.  Agricultural images like that of farmers or shepherds are universal ideas that cross most cultural and geographic barriers around the world.  With Jesus using these images to help us connect with God in a very basic way and allowing us to see his universal nature.  Even as our cultures continue to evolve into more urban and technological forms, these basic agricultural trades still exist and remain a necessary part of our human experience and critical to our survival as a species.  The story of the Good Shepherd resonates deeply with us because it not only connects with us on a cultural level, it connects on a deeply spiritual level.  Being able to see Jesus as a good shepherd helps us to more readily connect with him and follow him.  What’s right and wrong are easily understood, but more importantly, his great mercy is shown in his willingness to come after us when we go astray, and lovingly guide us back to his flock.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Post-Lent review... How did you do?

Lent is now behind us, yet in our excitement for Easter (and for Lent being over), how often to you take a moment to look back at your Lenten journey to do a post-game review?

As a volunteer leader and business school graduate, the concept of doing a formal "review" after an event or activity is a long held important practice... one that, unfortunately, tends to get overlooked even at the highest levels.  Still, it remains a staple of standard practice, and for good reason... It affords those involved, and the entire organization, a chance to review everything after the fact... what went well, what didn't, and lay the groundwork for next time.  The same is true for looking back at our Lenten journey.  So... how did you do?

I have to be honest, I sometimes fail to practice what I preach.  For as important as a post-lenten review might be, I hadn't thought of the idea until now.  I didn't even really think about it until this morning when I read the following artic…

5th Sunday of Easter

What happens when you have too much of a good thing?  When a business wins that lucrative new contract or expands into a new location?  Or taking that same idea a bit closer to home, what happens when two families merge through marriage, or when a family welcomes a new child?  We consider this kind of growth to be a good thing, but as with all things, these successes also come with their own baggage.  Our readings for this 5th Sunday of Easter have our Apostles facing similar challenges in the face of their growing successes.

The Word for the 5th Sunday of Easter Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

Our reading from Acts of the Apostles learning the hard way about the challenges that grow out of their continued success when their number of followers continues to grow.  Up to this point the Apostles have been doing their best to address the needs of the community, both spiritual and physical, but the community has grown so large now that they are becom…

3rd Sunday of Easter

Easter is about revelation!  On Easter Sunday we revealed that the tomb was found empty.  Last week Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles in the upper room, reminding us that “Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.”  This Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus is revealed through the breaking of the Bread.


The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Easter Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

In our first reading from Acts of the Apostles we have Peter, discovering his voice and standing before all of Jerusalem giving witness about who Jesus was and what happened there.  It’s both a reminder to those present who also witnessed these events, and a much necessary explanation for those who (like us) were not there (especially Luke’s primarily Gentile audience).  The heart of Peter’s message reminds us that this messiah was killed by his own people, but through that act, as prophesied by their greatest king, David, has been raised by God, and sends his Ho…