I Am the Good Shepherd

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay 

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

The Gospel reading today has Jesus responding to the Pharisees. In chapter 9 Jesus healed a blind man on Shabbat. The Pharisees attacked the man, accusing him of only pretending to be blind to fool the crowds as a shill for Jesus. At the end of the chapter Jesus was again questioned by the Pharisees. He upset them with the truth. Then Jesus said, “My coming into this world is itself a judgment—those who cannot see have their eyes opened and those who think they can see become blind.” Phillips

That lead into the discussion about the shepherd. You will notice that the Psalm for today is the familiar 23. Jesus borrows some of the imaginary from the Psalm in his description of himself.

The first verse of chapter 10 is: Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robberNIV Jesus jumped from talking about sight for the blind to talking about a shepherd; no wonder the Pharisees were confused.

In what way were the Pharisees thieves and robbers? The Pharisees of the First Century had committed to memory the 613 Commandments from God. They constantly told others to follow their example of ‘perfection’ when they should have been encouraging them to follow God. They stole the true relationship with God from His chosen ones.

If a man goes in through me, he will be safe and sound; he can come in and out and find his foodPhillips Notice in this verse 9, Jesus mixes the metaphor with the real world by substituting ‘a man’ for the sheep. I picture his listeners with quizzical looks and dropped jaws, so Jesus had to alter his explanation.

Verses 10, 12, & 13 make a whole section. The thief comes with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying, but I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. …. But the hired man, who is not the shepherd, and does not own the sheep, will see the wolf coming, desert the sheep and run away. And the wolf will attack the flock and send them flying. The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and has no interest in the sheepPhillips

Note first that the thief and the hired man are not the same. The thief only wants to steal the sheep to eat or sell. The hired man does his best, but he does not want to die for a bunch of dumb sheep. Everyone listening to Jesus would have identified the thief with Satan and they would have understood the hired man’s reluctance. Both those images are just the setup for the next two verses.

I am the good shepherd, and I know those that are mine and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I am giving my life for the sake of the sheepPhillips

The Pharisees heard Jesus claiming a special relationship with God that they did not have. That was upsetting enough but Jesus was also saying that he was the Good Shepherd of Scripture—Psalms and most of the prophets used the image.

Yet, none of the Pharisees understood Jesus when he said, “I am giving my life for the sake of the sheep.” The disciples had a vague understand of what he said, but even they did not think he meant actual death. They probably envisioned Jesus having to give up teaching to become king.

Just in case the Pharisees (and disciples) weren’t properly confused yet, Jesus went on with; And I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will hear my voicePhillips

None of them could have imagined that Jesus might have been talking about Gentiles, and by none, I include Peter, James, and John. If they had considered it for very long, they might have decided he meant the Jews living in other parts of the Empire. He did include them but by the time John was writing these words, the Church was largely Gentile.

So there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is the reason why the Father loves me—that I lay down my life, and I lay it down to take it up again! No one is taking it from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again. This is an order that I have received from my FatherPhillips

Jesus laid claim to the Resurrection. Not only would he die, but he would arise from the grave and resume his life as God’s Blessed Servant. In several New Testament citations—Acts 2:32; Romans 6:4; Hebrews 13:20, etc.—Jesus is said to have been raised up by God, yet Jesus says here that he has the power to arise. This is not a conflict; Jesus and God are so in tune that God doing it is like Jesus doing it. Because he knows God so well, Jesus knows that God will make sure that the Master Plan is carried out. It was all contained in the orders given to Jesus by his birth Father.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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