O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-- BCP, page 225
Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23;
1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
Jesus calls himself The Good Shepherd, in this week's Gospel. This title, if you will, is claimed in the context of a conflict with the religious authorities of his day, whom he bluntly calls hired hands -- earlier in the passage, he calls them thieves and bandits..
Let's back up a minute. One of my earliest book memories comes from an illustrated children's Bible. It is a picture of a contented ewe lamb, cute as a button, held in a sweet, all-encompassing embrace by a rather Scandinavian-looking Jesus. A man and his pet, it would seem. It stayed with me. As a young child, being cuddled like that was the warmest and most wonderful of feelings, and I readily identified with the ewe lamb.
Most shepherds, in any age, would be unlikely to look at their animals as pets, to be sure. Whether for their wool or their meat, sheep are a highly valued commodity. At the same time, shepherds are fiercely protective of their sheep because they are their livelihood. Against predators of any kind, four-legged as well as two-legged, they stand willing to do anything for the protection and well-being of their flock.
Jesus, in a long line of prophetic tradition, calls out the religious leaders of his day as shepherds who have deserted their duties. His critique is that the people in their care were to them little more than sources of power, prestige, and revenue. They cared more about protecting their place under occupying Rome, preserving their position, and lining their pockets with the business of the temple while promulgating a burdensome piety they were themselves unwilling to maintain. Therefore, Jesus calls them hired hands who flee in the face of trouble rather than protecting the sheepfold, as proper shepherds would do.
It would be tempting to turn Jesus into a belief system about who is in and who is out of the sheepfold. But if we turn the things we believe about Jesus into Shibboleths that determine belonging, we miss the point of the parable of Jesus, The Good Shepherd. To Jesus, the sheep are elevated from mere commodities to the proper position of beloved creatures to whom he gives life, and for whom he desires and provides abundant life.
The Good Shepherd gives his life to empower the safety and wellbeing of the sheep. Whether we are in his sheepfold is not determined by what we say or believe about Jesus --important as that is. Rather the decisive issue is how we relate to other sheep, both in and beyond Emmanuel. Do we see people as commodities, as so much of the world does in our day? Are we interested in people as ends in themselves or as means to our own ends? Do we treat people as persons to be met, cherished, and loved or as objects to be used and discarded when not useful?
We are all part of God's sheepfold to the degree that we seek to love and serve one another, nay, the entire creation and all its creatures, which is indeed God's sheepfold. This is our motivation to invite other people to come to Emmanuel. In a world bent on commoditizing human beings, we want everyone to know that they are cherished and beloved, that their very existence is a sign of God's delight in them.
At Emmanuel, the lower-cap shepherds, under the Good Shepherd, are your rector and vestry. We are committed and strive to do everything in our power, by God's grace and with God's help, for your well-being.
All of us are here on God's green earth to help one another grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
You are not the commodities of any institution or enterprise. You are not objects to be used and disposed of; you are God's own beloved creation, souls embodying God, holy sacraments of the living God.
Under the Mercy,