St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Acts 9.36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7.9-17; John 10.22-30
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Today’s collect began with these words: “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people . . .” Let’s begin by considering how our scriptures relate to this theme.
From Psalm 23 let us note these words and phrases: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. . . Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; . . . Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Vs. 1, 4, 6; BCP).
The reading from Revelation 7 begins by noting a great multitude robed in white standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb. This multitude are those “who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7.14b; NRSV). We further read “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life” (7.17; NRSV). The “springs of the water of life” may call to mind Psalm 23.2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters” (BCP).
In John 10, Jesus informs the Jewish leaders that he has already told them he is the Messiah, but they do not believe, for the works he has done in the Father’s name testify to who he is. They do not believe, for they do not belong to his sheep. The we encounter these beautiful words, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” John 10.27-28a; NRSV). Those who hear and respond to the Shepherd’s voice wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
The themes which cut across Psalm 23, Revelation 7, and John 10 are fairly apparent, but one may be left wondering how this relates to the story of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead in Acts 9. With the death and the resurrection of the Lamb of God, Jesus the Messiah has conquered death. The Spirit of God comes bringing resurrection, newness of life, in this life and in the life to come.
Still, if we are seeking connections, it seems like something is missing. How do we connect the Lord as Good Shepherd with the Lord as the Lamb of God? As you may recall, In the first chapter of John, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and exclaimed, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me, because he was before me’” (John 1.29-30; NRSV). Other connections are found in John 10.1-21 which immediately precedes today’s reading. Let us note some of these:
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
“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. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes[a] it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (NRSV).
At the end of chapter 9, Jesus had restored the sight of a blind man.
The sheepfold was a common holding pen where intermingled flocks were kept at night. But in this instance, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus had in mind the sheepfold outside the temple where the sacrificial lambs were awaiting sacrifice.
After hearing Jesus words to the effect that he is the good shepherd, that he is the gate for the sheep, that he lays down his life for the sheep, the Jewish leaders were still divided. In today’s reading, they say to Jesus: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10.24; NRSV). What sort of Messiah were the Jews expecting? All they understood was the idea of the Messiah as a powerful leader – a heavenly king who possessed armies capable of overthrowing the ruling Romans. The expected Messiah would use violence to overcome violence. As the Lamb of God, Jesus has something very different in mind. Next week’s lesson from John reveals further aspects of Jesus’ interaction with the Jewish leaders.
For now, I invite you to wrestle with these questions: What do Jesus’ confessions that he is the Good shepherd, the gate for the sheep, that he lays down his life for the sheep, and John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God mean to you? What does Jesus as Messiah mean to you?