Fourth Sunday in Easter, May 3

Reader: “I am the good shepherd;”

Response: “I know my own sheep.”

Scripture: John 10:1-18

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You recall yesterday’s passage where Ezekiel blasted Israel’s leadership for their wicked, sinful shepherding of Israel and Judah. Jesus picks up the same theme in today’s portion of John’s gospel. You will notice this chapter follows immediately the account of the man born blind whose sight was healed. In this chapter, Jesus alludes to the blindness of the Pharisees in recognizing who he is. The chapter begins with “I tell you the truth.” It’s a way of saying “Amen, amen,” in other words, “Listen up people, what I’m about to say is really important, so pay attention.” (Whenever this phrase is used, it always feeds off of what preceded it― i.e. the healing of the blind man.) He begins with not bad shepherds, but thieves and robbers. Sheep were kept in a pen at night and the shepherd slept in the single doorway, the only way to get into or out of the fold. The shepherd was the only door; the sheep were secure. The relationship between the shepherd and the sheep was personal. He knew every sheep and every sheep knew his voice. They followed by voice, not by sight. Often several shepherds would go together with several flocks in the same fold. When morning came, each shepherd would call his own sheep and the flocks would separate based on hearing their master’s voice. The challenge is not only to the shepherds of the flocks but also for the sheep to learn their master’s voice so they know whom to follow. (It is interesting to me that you cannot drive sheep. You can drive cattle, not so with sheep. If you are behind the flock and seek to drive them, they will simply part and now you are in front and they will follow!) The people listening still didn’t get it, so Jesus did another “Amen, amen!” We see in this portion a challenge to know his voice, to know Scripture, and to know the truth. We are not to be dumb sheep. Our Shepherd loves us to the point of his own death. Rather than leadership in the first part of reading, the focus shifts here to safety, care, commitment of the Shepherd. He is the entrance point to pleasant pastures. He is the doorway, the gate. Jesus’ discourse here deals with two ways of viewing him, both having to do with salvation. He is the Door, the only way to salvation. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep with the power to take it up again. I might make one additional comment about the sentence “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold.” The Mormons have interpreted that as referring to North America and the tribes of native Americans living there. With no other references anywhere in Scripture even remotely suggesting such, such reasoning is far-fetched, unfounded speculation at best. Remember, throughout the early part of Christianity, the converted Jews struggled with the concept of accepting Gentile believers as equals before God. In this particular instance, Jesus is talking to Jewish leaders and Jewish people. A far more reasonable understanding is that Jesus’ comments refer to non-Jewish people who will come to faith as the gospel unfolds following Jesus’ death and resurrection. At this point in history and in this context, this is a much more likely interpretation from my perspective. Friends, all of this isn’t ancient history, this same Shepherd is very much alive and seeks to lead you into this day. You are known by him. Listen for his voice and follow.

Music: “The Lord’s My Shepherd I’ll not Want”    Citrail 


O Lover to the uttermost, may I read the meltings of thy heart to me: in the manger of thy birth, in the garden of thy agony, in the cross of thy suffering, in the tomb of thy resurrection, in the heaven of thy intercession. Bold in this thought, I defy my adversary, tread down his temptations, resist his schemings, renounce the world, am valiant for truth. Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationship to thee, as spiritual bridegroom, as Jehovah’s fellow, as sinners’ friend. I think of Thy glory and my vileness, Thy majesty and my meanness, Thy beauty and my deformity, Thy purity and my filth, Thy righteousness and my iniquity. Thou hast loved me everlastingly, unchangeably, may I love thee as I am loved; Thou hast given Thyself for me, may I give myself to Thee; Thou hast died for me, may I live to Thee, in every moment of my time, in every movement of my mind, in every pulse of my heart. May I never dally with the world and its allurements, but walk by thy side, listen to thy voice, be clothed with Thy graces and adorned with Thy righteousness. Amen.   ―from The Valley of Vision, p.18