22 April 2018
Reading Acts 4:5—12
5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is ‘“the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.” 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’
Gospel John 10:11—18
Alleluia, alleluia. I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’
Magic Persian carpet—2,000 years—Jesus tells Parable of Good Shepard. Not cosy pastoral fable with a message—not sitting on the grass with disciples as Jesus taught—background threatening investigation of lawbreaking by Pharisees.
Lawbreaking—John 8—Pharisees present to Jesus Woman taken in Adultery—long dispute follows—Jesus claims about himself—chapter ends with Jesus claiming in effect he is God:
58 ‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
Chapter 9 continues theme of lawbreaking—this time Jesus himself—healing of Man Born Blind—on Sabbath Day. Pharisees investigate—interview man who was healed—under whose authority did Jesus do this?—chapter ends with accusation against Pharisees of spiritual blindness.
Chapter 10—opens with Good Shepherd—parable told at first against Pharisees—they are accused of being thieves and robbers—who do not enter gate of sheepfold but try to break in by climbing the wall. The Good Shepherd enters through gate—sheep recognise him—know his voice and feel safe. They run away from a stranger—they do not know his voice.
Pharisees do not understand—miss the point—parable is aimed at them. Thieves come only to kill and destroy—Jesus not only the gate keeper—also the gate itself. Not only does Jesus control the gate—he is the gate and the gatekeeper.
Sheep are dumb creatures—follow the leader—if rescued from snow drifts weighing down their fleece—tend to climb back again because the blanket of snow is warmer—easily stray into danger. How funny we so readily associate with the sheep when told this parable!
Christological reflection—Pharisees misunderstood—represented as wolves preying on sheep—or thieves and robbers. We need to understand what part we play—more important we use parable and other I AM sayings to learn more about Jesus—who and what he is.
Logos—John starts by a grand vision of The Word—creative force since before time itself—through who all things came into being.
Jesus uses I AM also in several parables to help our understanding:
· Vine and Branches
· Bread of Life
· Living Water
· Shepherd and flock
· Door of sheepfold
Easter—good time to get to know Jesus better through these images.
There is a difficulty for us in today’s parable—we understand little of sheep husbandry compared to Jesus’ hearers. Shepherds were universally mistrusted—badly paid with no incentive to confront danger—prone to theft of the sheep. So it’s interesting Jesus represents himself as the Good Shepherd. Scripture is full of images of God as shepherd of his flock:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (PS 23)
The twist now is that Jesus is representing himself as Shepherd—but also as God in OT. If we reflect on the nature of Christ post Easter—what theologians call theological reflection—there are a number of questions that you may think come to your mind:
· What kind of flock are we? What kind are we meant to be?
· Jesus mentions another flock—they are not of this sheepfold—what flock is this and what has happened to them?
· What does it mean to be part of Jesus’s flock—protection from harm—access to the gate—being trusted and loved by the Good Shepherd—being fed and nurtured—knowing his voice and choosing to follow him—being rescued and valued if we repent after wandering off?
The Pharisees and others thought they were chosen by God—but Jesus tells them about only one flock and one Shepherd. We—through Christ—by God’s Holy Spirit—have the invitation to belong to this one flock. This is not the way we tend to remember the parable of the Good Shepherd. Too often the parable is recalled out of context—with a warm glow of satisfaction—whereas the truth is much grittier—born out of a dispute between our Lord and the religious authorities.
So this Eastertide—let us read anew one of the most familiar passages of Scripture—this time in a much more direct and grown up version—knowing our salvation depends on it—and not falling into the trap of the Pharisees, believing they are God’s elect—or that justification is necessarily by faith alone. Amen