4th Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 4:8–12; 1 John 3:1–2; John 10:11–18
I Am the Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd laid down his life to share with us his risen life.
Laura Bell is not your typical college graduate.
After graduation she took a job as a sheepherder in Wyoming.
Some of her friends thought she was crazy. But Laura wanted a challenge. Well, she got it.
She worked eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. Her days began at dawn and ended at sunset. All this time she was completely alone, except for her dog, her horse, and 2,000 sheep. Once a week someone rode out across the hills to bring her food, mail, and rifle shells.
Laura’s job consisted in keeping the sheep together, moving them about for food and water, and protecting them from wild animals.
“When you’re out there all alone,” she said, “there’s no one to correct your mistakes. So you keep doubly alert for dangers,
like rattlesnakes; and you don’t do dumb things with your horse.”
Laura said one of her joys was the weather. It was also one of her biggest headaches. The weather determined how the sheep were going to behave and what her day would be like.
One morning a group of sheep decided to break away from the main herd. Laura said she spent the rest of the day tracking them down. Just when she found them, a thunderstorm drenched her and the flock. She spent that night shivering in a wad of soggy blankets.
The story of Laura Bell gives us an insight into just how hard the job of a modern sheepherder can be.
Ancient shepherds had to work even harder. This was because they had no horse, dog, or rifle to help them with their job.
All they had was themselves. This made their work exceedingly dangerous. Let me illustrate with an example.
A story in the First Book of Samuel tells how young David volunteers to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath. The king refuses, saying, “You’re just a boy, and he has been a soldier all his life!”
“Your Majesty,” David said, “I take care of my father’s sheep. Any time a lion or bear carries off a lamb, I go after, attack it, and rescue the lamb. And if the lion or bear turns on me, I grab it by the throat and beat it to death. I have killed lions and bears, and I will do the same to this heathen Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:33–36
We all know how the story turned out. David defeated Goliath with a slingshot, which was the closest thing to a rifle that an ancient shepherd had.
But the danger to the ancient shepherd’s life came not just from wild animals but also from outlaws and rustlers.
In his book on the Holy Land, called The Land and the Book, W. M. Thomson records this tragic story.
One day a young shepherd was tending his flock in the vicinity of Mt. Tabor. Suddenly three bedouin rustlers appeared. The young man knew what he was up against,
but he didn’t flee. He stood his ground and fought to keep his flock from falling into the hands of the outlaws. The episode ended with the young shepherd laying down his life for his sheep.
The ancient shepherd’s dedication to his flock inspired the biblical writers to speak of God as a shepherd.
God’s dedication to Israel was like that of a shepherd.
Thus the psalmist sings:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. . . .
Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid.” Psalm 23:1, 4
Since the religious leaders of Israel took God’s place on earth, they too were referred to as shepherds.
Unfortunately, with the passage of time, Israel’s religious leadership deteriorated. When this happened, the prophet Ezekiel spoke out in God’s name, saying:
“You are doomed, you shepherds of Israel! You take care of yourselves, but never tend the sheep. . . . You have not taken care of the weak ones, healed the ones that are sick, bandaged the ones that are hurt, brought back the ones that wandered off, or looked for the ones that were lost. . . .
“So listen to me, you shepherds.
I, the Sovereign LORD, declare . . .
I will take my sheep away from you. . . .
I will give them a king like my servant David
to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them.”
Ezekiel 34:2–4, 9–10, 23
It is against this background that we must read today’s gospel.
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep. . . .[t]hey will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” John 10:11, 16
In other words, Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy made by Ezekiel. Like the good shepherd David, he cares for the week and helpless, heals the sick, and goes out in search of the stray and the lost sheep.
Jesus does more. He lays down his life for his sheep.
Jesus does still more. He rises from the dead and shares his own risen life with his sheep.
This is what Peter refers to in today’s first reading.
He tells the people that it is through Jesus’ power that the cripple has been healed. Peter invites the people to believe in Jesus and to be healed by him spiritually, just as the cripple was healed physically.
This is also what John talks about in today’s second reading.
He says that through Jesus the Father has made us his own children.
What should be our response to all of this?
First, it should be one of gratitude to Jesus. For through his death and resurrection we have been saved from eternal death and raised up to eternal life. This is what John is referring to in the second reading when he says:
“My dear friends, we are now God’s children, but it is not clear what we shall become. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is.”
Second, our response should be one of profound openness to Jesus. For Jesus is present in our midst right now, continuing his work of salvation.
He continues to care for the weak, heal the sick, bandage the wounded, bring back the stray, and seek out the lost.
Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd promised by God.
Jesus not only laid down his life for us 2,000 years ago,
but also continues to dwell in our midst, and communicate to us his own risen life.
4th Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 4:8–12; 1 John 3:1–2; John 10:11–18
The “Jesus’’ Nut
Jesus is the one who holds everything together.
Some time ago I ran across an article by Carolyn Moran.
It was entitled “The Nut that Saved Our Marriage.’’
Now you can’t read a title like that and not wonder who that nut was.
I thought it might be her husband who had a sense of humor that defused situations before they got explosive.
Or I thought it might be one of their children who did something funny to make them laugh when situations got tense.
Or I thought it might even be a friend who made them see how silly it was to focus on the bad points each had, when they both had so many good points.
Well, I was in for a big surprise. It was none of these people.
Carolyn introduces “the nut’’ with this story.
One day she was having lunch with her husband and their son Mike at their Los Angeles home. Mike was a navy helicopter pilot who was visiting from San Diego.
At one point during the lunch, Mike and his father began talking about the helicopter that Mike flew. Mike said:
“You know, Dad, as complicated as that helicopter is,
its whirling rotor is held in place by a single hexagonal nut.’’
Then turning to his mother, Mike said, “And, Mom, do you know what they call that nut?’’
His mother shrugged. She had no idea what they called it.
“I give up,’’ she said. “What do they call the nut that holds it all together?’’
Mike smiled and said, “They call it the ‘Jesus’ nut.’’
With a little help from Mike, his mother saw the connection between Jesus and the nut.
Just as Jesus—by his death and resurrection—holds the human race together, so that nut holds Mike’s helicopter together.
And this brings us back to the title of Carolyn’s article—
“The Nut that Saved Our Marriage.’’
Carolyn saw Jesus as playing the same role in her marriage as the nut played in Mike’s helicopter. Jesus was the one who held her marriage together.
Like the helicopter, marriage is a very complicated thing. There’s so much that can go wrong with it.
Removing Jesus from her marriage would be like removing the “Jesus’’ nut from Mike’s helicopter. It would fall apart.
The idea of Jesus as being the one who holds everything together is also the theme of today’s readings.
The first reading describes Jesus as being like the cornerstone of a building.
In ancient buildings a cornerstone was important.
It supported the building and held it together. To remove a cornerstone from a building was to doom it to destruction.
In a similar way, Jesus holds a Christian marriage together. Remove Jesus from it, and it is doomed to destruction.
The gospel reading repeats the same idea. It describes Jesus as being like the shepherd of a flock. A shepherd’s role is to hold the flock together and to protect it from anything that would harm it.
Again, that’s the same role that Jesus plays in Christian marriage. He holds it together and protects it from anything that would harm it.
This leads to the practical application that all this has for our lives.
If our marriage or our family is in trouble, maybe it’s because we have forgotten about the nut that God destined to hold it together.
Maybe we have forgotten about Jesus.
Maybe we have left Jesus out.
Maybe we haven’t invited Jesus into our marriage or into our home.
It’s significant that almost every time that Jesus was invited into a home in gospel times, he worked a miracle for those who lived there.
For example, when the newlyweds invited Jesus into their home, he changed water into wine.
When Peter invited Jesus into his home, Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law. When a Roman centurion invited Jesus into his home, Jesus healed his servant.
When the sisters invited Jesus into their home, he raised their brother from the dead. When Jairus invited Jesus into his home, Jesus restored his daughter to life.
This makes us ask ourselves, If we invited Jesus into our home, won’t he do the same for us?
The answer to that question is clear.
And so the message of today’s reading is clear. If our marriage, our family, or our personal life is in trouble,
maybe it’s because we’ve left Jesus out of it. Maybe it’s because we haven’t invited Jesus into it.
And so today’s readings are an invitation to us to invite Jesus back into our home and back into our life.
Let’s close with a story by Doris Forman.
Some years ago the Forman family moved into a beautiful, modern home.
Doris’s husband insisted on hanging a large painting of Jesus in the most prominent place in the living room.
The interior decorator told him the picture was out of place there. It stood out like a sore thumb. Doris agreed with the decorator.
But her husband refused to move the picture. He said that Jesus had blessed them with a new home. And he was going to give Jesus the place of honor in that home.
After a few months, Doris noticed that a surprising thing began to happen. The picture began to have a remarkable effect not only on the Forman family but also on their close friends.
It sent a message to everyone. And the message was simple:
The nut, the cornerstone, the shepherd of this family is Jesus Christ. He is the one who holds this marriage, this family, and this home together. He is the one who continues to work a miracle of love among us. And he will do the same for you if you but invite him into your home.
4th Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 4:8–12, 1 John 3:1–2, John 10:11–18
Jesus calls us to unity and shows us the way.
Iam the good shepherd. . . . There are other sheep which belong to me. . . . They will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock.” John 10:14, 16
Some time ago, someone handed me a newspaper clipping of a “letter to the editor.” Allow me to read it to you:
Dr. Jim Kelly was not a celebrity and he was not famous in the traditional sense, but he was a hero. He was a doctor who served the community for fifty years.
His passing . . . drew an enormous crowd of mourners who stood for hours in the heat and humidity without complaint,
to pay him honor.
The funeral home, in business more than sixty years, said they had never seen such a crowd. . . .
As they waited, these people shared stories about this man, known affectionately as “Doc” and “Papa Doc.”
The themes of these stories . . . told of a man . . . who reached into his own pocket to cover expenses for those who could not afford it.
A man who helped to establish a facility for handicapped children. A man who bestowed on his
little girl patients the title “Princess.” . . .
A doctor who made house calls and worried along with mothers and encouraged them to call him at any hour. . . .
The stories told of a man who made everyone . . . feel like the most important person in the universe from the moment they encountered his compassionate smile and gentle manner.
The nurses and staff who worked with him consistently recalled how he never failed to thank them for their efforts. . . .
Generosity, unconditional love, compassion, and faith were the trademarks of this “good doctor.”
That inspiring letter about that “good doctor” moved me deeply. It also reminded me of something that biblical scholar William Barclay said in reference to Jesus the “good shepherd.”
He said that ancient Greeks had two words for “good.”
The first word was agathos. They used it to describe a moral act, which can be either good or bad.
The second word was kalos. It was this word the gospel writer used in calling Jesus the “good shepherd.”
To describe the meaning of kalos, Barclay used the example of calling someone the “good doctor.”
He says that when people do this, they are not referring to his skill as a physician. Rather, they are thinking more of his compassion and loving-kindness.
In the case of Jesus, he is the “good shepherd” to the point that he will gladly die for his sheep.
That brings us to a second point about Jesus, the “good shepherd.”
He has come to bring all people into one flock. William Barclay comments on this point by telling a story from the life of Egerton Young. He was a missionary to the Native Americans of Saskatchewan, Canada. An old chief once said to Egerton:
“When you spoke of the great Spirit just now, did I hear you say, ‘Our Father’?” “Yes,” said Egerton. “That is very new and sweet to me,” said the chief.
“We never thought of the great Spirit as Father. We heard him in thunder; we saw him in lightning . . . and the blizzard, and we were afraid. So when you tell us that the great Spirit is our Father, that is very beautiful to us.”
The old man paused, and went on. . . .
“Missionary, did you say that the great Spirit is your Father?”
“Yes,” said the missionary. . . .
“Then,” said the old chief . . .
“you and I are brothers!”
The old chief had put his finger on the second point Jesus says he has come to do.
He has come to teach us that we are brothers and sisters, because we have the same Father.
And in this amazing revelation lies the sole hope for the possibility for unity and peace in our world.
As we look out across our world we see huge divisions:
nation against nation, race against race, social class against social class.
Without the Good Shepherd, there is no hope of healing these divisions.
There is no hope for achieving unity and peace between nations.
There is no hope for achieving unity and peace between races.
There is no hope for achieving unity and peace between social classes.
The only thing that can break down the barriers between nations, races, and classes is the good news of the Gospel.
It is the good news that God is “Our Father.”
And that brings us to our role in all of this.
What Jesus revealed to us we must live out in our lives.
We must not only preach it to our world by our words but also—and more importantly—by our actions.
If there is to be peace in our world, it must begin with
us—in the depths of our soul.
An old Chinese proverb puts it well when it reminds us:
If there is right in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.