Well, you wouldn’t have expected it (especially in Easter-tide) but today’s Gospel reading involves murder, destruction, theft, mysterious figures breaking into your property in the middle of the night, splintered wood and blood on the floor, fear, panic and confusion. And today is known as ‘Good Shepherd’ Sunday.
You see, we hear Jesus’ words (I am the Good Shepherd) and immediately we are transported to the idyllic countryside: safety, pasture, still waters restoring our soul. And yet Jesus words are set in the context of a real and increasingly violent confrontation.
In the Gospel this passage follows on immediately from the story of a man who has been healed by Jesus in Jerusalem but who has then fallen foul of the religious authorities: ‘who healed you?’…who was it that healed you on the Sabbath Day and, in doing so, pushed to one side one of the central (God Given even) markers of true allegiance to God. The man, not knowing Jesus’ name tries to argue that someone who can heal the sick so miraculously can only be from God – but the scribes and Pharisees will have none of it, they physically drive him out of their presence. At which point Jesus finds him, the man worships him and Jesus says that his ministry will divide those who can see him for who he is from those who are blind to God’s presence.
Then, only then, do we get his words ‘I am the Good shepherd’. And so they are words of contrast and conflict. He is the Good Shepherd who will lead His sheep, his people, to Life in all its fulness. But there are others in the frame whose business is theft. Alongside the picture of a flock being led out to find pasture we also have the image of thieves and bandits clambering over the walls of the courtyard where the sheep have been kept to ‘help themselves’: a picture of utter selfishness, lack of care for others – I wonder who Jesus was speaking of…the High Priests getting wealthy off the back of the people? Others don’t even just steal, they kill and destroy: God’s flock (presumably) at the mercy of naked power and brutality – is that Rome and her legions?
The Good Shepherd is followed by some of the sheep…not all. There are those who hear his voice, (and he knows them by name too) who recognise him and separate themselves out from the rest of the flock to follow him. That was what happened in ancient Israel: several flocks being kept together but going their separate ways as as they followed their respective shepherds to pasture in the morning.
Which brings us to the main question that runs through all of John’s Gospel: Who is Jesus? If He is ‘the Good Shepherd’, the one who can show us the way to a fuller sought of life how can I learn to hear his voice? How can I become part of ‘his flock’. In John’s Gospel this is not something that we can ‘make happen’, it is a gift but a gift that is freely given (not held back from anyone who wishes to receive it). We ask. We pray. We will want to place ourselves in Jesus’ company through reading the scriptures ( the gospels are the best place to start: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – but read them in a modern translation). We will want to learn his ways by meeting with others who follow him – belonging to the church community is important. But it starts with a prayer: how about
Lord Jesus, Good shepherd
More often than not I do my own thing and I go my own way: I’m sorry
Sometimes I am led astray by others: forgive me
I want to belong to you and learn to follow you
So please, help me to hear your voice,
call me by name and lead me to life in all its fulness
to your praise and glory.
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St. Mary’s is open for private prayer each weekday from 10.00am – 4.00pm