"Abundant Life," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.
Creator God, you make the resplendent glory of the Risen One shine with new radiance on the world, whenever our human weakness is healed and restored. Gather all your scattered children into one flock following Christ, our Good Shepherd, so that all may taste the joy you bestow on those who are the children of God. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some Thoughts on John 10:11-18
This week we have the Good Shepherd from John's gospel.
It comes as part of an overall scriptural unit. Chapter 10: 1-21. Most New Testament scholars break our reading up into two sections. The first section is made up of verses 11-16 where in the reader discovers the nature of the shepherd. The second section is made up of verses 17-18 wherein we read about the specific work of this Good Shepherd.
The hired hand and the wolf prey on the sheep. They care only for themselves. They steal and consume the sheep. What is interesting here is the parallel drawn by scholars to those religious leaders who betray their flock. Certainly, in the early tradition there is a notion of being sent among wolves. In Acts Paul reminds church leaders they are to feed their sheep.
I think that the next section is important as a defining boundary for the care and tending of sheep. The shepherd here does not only know their work, but also knows their sheep intimately. They know all their sheep intimately. They recognize the shepherd's voice. And, that there are sheep who are being added to the fold (the gentile mission). Therefore the shepherd knows his sheep and knows sheep who are to be gathered in.
This tradition falls in the long line of prophetic witness wherein the leaders of Israel have been seen as shepherds of their flock.
As I read through a number of texts on this passage (including my own preaching) I am ever mindful that the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep; and that God takes up his life for him when his work is done. Resurrection, new life, transformed life, comes to the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep - those in his fold and those without.
Today we live in an age where we protect ourselves at all cost. We do this by projecting out into the world our own desires. We disguise this protection by gathering around us like minded people. So we get our cause (political, religious, social) and we gather with people who have the same interest in maintaining ego protection on any given topic.
Paul Zahl reminded me in a recent podcats (PZ's Podcast available on Itunes) that one reason why when people accomplish what they set out to do on any given agenda and they usually feel unfulfilled is because they set out based upon ego protection and not based upon their own true nature's need for salvation, grace and mercy. They set out to change the world because they were sure everyone else was wrong not because their own heart needed transformation.
The shepherd is in need of resurrection when the life is laid down; this mimics the Good Shepherd's own death and resurrection. The individual who truly lays down their life and loses it will in the end find it. But it is real life that is lost, a costly ego death, that must be allowed to take place.
This means more frequently a non-heroes death and/or the failure of perfection.
What does it really mean to be one of the good shepherds, serving the One Good Shepherd? It will mean being shepherd to all. A leader must lead and be a shepherd for all the sheep. All the sheep include: those who agree and those who disagree; those who love you and those who hate you; those who are pleased with your action and those who are pounding down the doors of your fortified ego castle; and the unseen sheep not in our fold.
So as I prepare to preach this week I have a lot of questions running through my mind. None of these questions have much to do with the loving shepherd finding me in the darkness and carrying me off to the sheepfold. Rather, the questions I am asking are based upon that redemption already being underway: What part of myself must die in order for me to be shepherd (in the mold of the Good Shepherd) for all the sheep? How shall I lay down my life for them? Am I willing to die a hundred thousand deaths (not as vanquishing hero) but as a lonely herdsman in the midst of a valley of wolves and thieves?
Ah yes, perhaps that is the real work after all. You and I if we brave this sacred journey we should be prepared for the silence, the lack of followers, a shameful death, and...and...in the end God's hand snatching us from the grave. It is the silent waiting of the dead in which God's love, grace and mercy resides. That is the meaning of life as a good shepherd; would that we had a church full of such men and women!
A Little Bit for Everyone
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12The 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.13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I 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.17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.18No one takes 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.”