Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

TEXTS: Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus tells us. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” (John 10:11, 14)

I grew up in the city, so I cannot pretend to have a lot of first-hand knowledge about sheep. However, those who are in the know (sheep-wise) tell me that what the Bible hints at about them is in fact quite true: sheep aren’t very bright! They have the tendency to wander—and they get themselves stuck in situations that they can’t get out of.

Sheep, I am told, often don’t realize where they are going. To make matters worse, they don’t keep track of where they’ve been, and they seldom see the need of returning to the point from which they started.

If somehow they end up on their backs with their legs up in the air, sheep appear unable to flip themselves right-side up (or maybe they just can’t figure out how). In such a predicament, they will probably die if someone doesn’t help them out.

During thunderstorms, sheep have been known to crowd into one corner of the sheep pen to the point that they actually smother and kill one another. Why? Because they are frightened out of their scarce wits, and they don’t know what else to do. They don’t know where to turn.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Maybe it only sounds familiar to me—because that description of sheep behaviour reminds of what my own behaviour has been like, way too often in my life. Except for the part about being scared of thunderstorms; I like them! But then, that may just be evidence that sometimes I’m too dumb to be frightened of stuff that should terrify me.

However, I doubt that I’m the only person in the room with a history of stupid blunders, or bad choices, or poor judgment. I doubt that I’m the only one with a lousy sense of direction, or a short attention span.

Most people I’ve asked about it have admitted to having at least a few undesirable “sheep-like” qualities. And I think we could all come up with examples of how the very brightest people we know have on occasion surprised us by making absolutely boneheaded mistakes.

It’s no wonder that the Bible often refers to us as sheep—not so much because we are dull mentally, but because we tend to be dull spiritually.

Isn’t it true? We love to wander in search of the seemingly greener pastures that this world has to offer, even if it means leaving our Good Shepherd behind.

At times, we find ourselves in situations that pose great danger to our spiritual well-being—temptations and circumstances that seek to rob us of our faith in our Good Shepherd.

And when the many storms of life come our way, do we not sometimes find ourselves huddling in a corner somewhere? When we let fear and worry control our lives, all sense of logic and reason seems to evaporate, and we find ourselves asking why we allow such things to happen to us! How do we get ourselves into these messes?

Well, maybe that’s just it! Too often, we focus our attention on ourselves and what’s going on in our physical lives instead of focusing on our Good Shepherd and the promises that he makes concerning our spiritual lives. In our text, Jesus tells us:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” (John 10:11-13)

In this world you will find all sorts of hired hands who care nothing for the sheep: false teachers, false religions, false churches, false beliefs, philosophies, ideologies—all convincingly promoted by people who are in it for themselves rather than for the sheep; people who claim that they know you and know what you need.

But nobody knows you the way that your Good Shepherd knows you. Nobody else has been with you since the beginning the way that your Good Shepherd has. Nobody else has the kind of investment in you that your Good Shepherd has. Placing your faith or your trust in anyone or anything else could have disastrous results when the wolf comes knocking at your door.

The Good Shepherd knows his sheep. After all, you’ve been together from the beginning—and together, you’ve been through a lot. Together, you’ve weathered many storms—and your Good Shepherd has been with you, and has seen you through every time. That’s why you can say, with the psalmist: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

Are you the kind of sheep that has the tendency to wander, and wind up in situations that you shouldn’t be in? Your Good Shepherd knows this. At such times, he uses his rod to guide and correct you, and bring you back into the fold.

Are you the kind of sheep who is hurting or sick? Your Good Shepherd knows this, too—and he uses his staff to draw you closer to himself, so he can give you the special attention that you need. It is said that when the sheep see the shepherd’s staff they know that the shepherd is close by, and this comforts them. It’s the same with the Good Shepherd that we have in Jesus.

Your Good Shepherd knows you through and through. He knows you by name. He knows your case history. After all, he was the One who called you to be his own. And so, you know him. You know his voice because he has spoken to you so often.

In times of sorrow, he has spoken his Word of comfort. In times of fear, he has spoken his Word of peace. When you have felt yourself hopelessly lost, he has called your name—called you to himself. And when you have been filled with joy, has he not sung the tune to which you danced?

Our Shepherd is good because he never abandons his sheep. Jesus is not a good shepherd; he is the Good Shepherd. He is not simply a good preacher, or a venerated prophet, or one of the world’s great leaders. He is not just one among many good shepherds. No. Jesus is far above and beyond the measurements and comparisons of this world. He is God’s Beloved Son!

Years ago, I came to know a man who was almost destroyed by alcohol and drugs and crime. His life had been a downward spiral of overdoses and prison terms and violence. He told me that things had been so bad that he even contemplated suicide.

But the Good Shepherd came looking for him, and he had just enough sense to let himself be found. By the time I met him, he had been sober and clean for almost 10 years. He had learned a trade and was earning an honest living. And because he wanted to help others out of their downward spirals, he spent many hours every week as a volunteer at a rescue mission. He also devoted time to editing the mission’s newsletter. One time, in that publication, he wrote the following: “To find Jesus is to find the most excellent treasure. To love Jesus is to love what is most beautiful, most merciful, and most forgiving. He is the friend who is always honest, always fair, and always faithful.”

And you know, that really is the nature and the character of the “Good Shepherd.” His love for us is unconditional, his mercy toward us is without limit, and his seeking of us is absolutely relentless. Jesus is the Shepherd who seeks you even if you are the only one who is lost—and no matter how lost you are. Thanks be to God for this good news. Amen.



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