“Easter Bunny now Easter Shepherd?” – Easter 4

John 10:11-18
“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. 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. No 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.”

So here we are in the Season of Easter. We have been considering the post-resurrection experiences of Jesus and suddenly we are asked to consider Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It is such a, “turn left NOW!” intrusion, that some traditions actually call this Sunday, “Shepherd Sunday” just so people will know it going to be different.  Trying always, as St Ignatius of Loyola taught us, to “think with the Church“, I set about wondering what the Good Shepherd could possibly have to do with the Resurrection?

I began musing on the after-tomb experiences the disciples had with Jesus. How he appeared mysteriously and almost magically in locked rooms, on the road, on the beach; always encountering the disciples. I found myself wondering if I were Jesus, if I would really have wanted to go back and hang out with the people who had betrayed, denied and deserted me as a crucified criminal. People who, apart for the women, left me for dead!  I am not sure that being with my fickle followers would have made my “after the bucket” list.  But, that is just me musing of course.  I am sure more forgiving people would do as Jesus did.

Parents probably. Don’t you just love how as parents we never quit on our kids no matter what they do to us? Priests possibly. I am amazed at the abuse the clergy put up with for the love of Jesus.  We may make a list that could include other forgivers like teachers, social workers, nurses, firemen? Lawyers? No NOT lawyers! Shepherds?
Ah! At last I understood why Shepherd Sunday falls right in the middle of the Easter season!

If Jesus wasn’t the Good Shepherd he wouldn’t have hung around to heal, reconcile and commission a community of failures into an ecclesia. He would have headed straight for heaven like so many of his followers these days seem hell bent on doing, if you know what I mean?

Not the Good Shepherd though, the Good Shepherd who has “the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again” picks up loving and caring, cajoling and commissioning just where he left off before they strung him up and left him for dead.

In this respect he reminds me of the Buddhist notion of the Boddhisattva. A Boddhisattva is one who sets about “cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. In particular, Bodhisattvas promise to practice the “six perfections” of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhichitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings.(Reference).  A Bodhisattva will keep reincarnating until they have helped every other being attain Nirvana ahead of  them.

It’s kind of like a Shepherd who won’t go home to rest until he knows all the flock have entered into their rest. A shepherd, who even when he is dead tired or just plain dead, gets up and continues seeking and calling until the sheep are all home.
To make this even more profound, our Good Shepherd has more than one flock. He said so. He also said that his work wasn’t done until he had also brought them. All the flocks.

I would like to think the Boddhisattvas will be there helping him too? Perhaps that is all the help there will be for Jesus, given that the Christians are in such a hurry to get themselves to heaven, and damn the rest!

The call of the Slaughtered Shepherd

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Once again I come to this passage from John’s gospel remembering that John never says anything that is not significant. Parchment was too rare and expensive to waste on non-essentials. Every word and phrase has power in John’s hands. It was John who gave us that chilling four word phrase just after Judas has departed the upper room, “… and it was night“. In that endline all the horror of what is happening is captured.

So I come expectantly, to this passage from John and he hits me with another of those phrases.

First he tells me that it was the time of the Festival that had been set up by the Maccabeans in 126BCE to commemorate the re-consecration of the temple in Jerusalem, the festival of the Dedication. He then hits me with, “It was winter”. A barren season when there is little sign of life. He is in the re-consecrated temple yet I wonder if John is suggesting that consecrating a building without consecrating one’s heart is a cold and fruitless ritual?

It is in this bleak architectural and calendar space that Jesus is questioned as to whether he is the Xristos, the Messiah.

I can almost hear the sigh in his voice as he replies,” “I have told you, and you do not believe.” Jesus has been performing many restorative acts of resurrrection, healing, forgiving. Restoring people’s food security, in raising men for vulnerable widowed homes. Countering bad shame blame theology by healing Canaanite children, Roman children, and even Synagogue leader’s children like Jairus’ daughter, to show that bad things do not only happen to bad people. If all of my works of restoration do not show you that God’s Xristos is here, then what will?

Remember, word economic John has located Jesus very precisely. All that is missing are the GPS co-ordinates and we could reference the spot on Google Earth! Jesus is standing in Solomon’s portico.

Solomon’s portico that abutted the court of the Gentiles, where all the sheep trading and money changing was going on.

  • Can you hear the haggling of the priests and the pilgrims?
  • Can you hear the clinking of the coins as they drop onto the tables that Jesus will overturn next time he comes to town?
  • I am sure Jesus heard all these sounds too.
  • But it was another sound that gave him the metaphor he needed for this Good News moment.
  • If we listen carefully you and I can hear it too.

Do you hear the bleating of the sheep and the silence of the lambs?

These are not calm and pastoral flocks, these are the fuel for the bloodthirsty religious machine that the temple has become, and it is the fear and dislocated cries of the scapegoated sheep that Jesus uses to teach us this Shepherd Sunday.

You don’t trust that I am the Messiah, because you don’t recognise my voice above the noisy screams of your own conflicted lives. If you were my sheep, this call to life, love, compassion and community would not be strange to you, and you would follow me. But as it is now, all you have is this beautiful building and a winter-blighted religion in which your frozen hearts cannot care less about the desperation of the pilgrims who need to know God’s life.

That is why I have come. I have not come for fancy porticoes and friezes, nor for festivals and feasts. Of all your laws I will keep only one rule, that you love God and each other. And of your rituals I will retain only a piece of broken bread and Elijah’s cup of wine from the Passover meal. The rest is as dead as these poor bleating sheep soon will be. There is no salvation in all this sacrifice. That is why I have never once spoken of myself as a sacrifice. No I am a Shepherd.

A shepherd whom your laws declare to be permanently unclean, because I work with blood and dung.

Yet, despite who you judge me to be, those who need life and love, compassion and community, come to me. Their belief is not some doctrinal and ethical veracity, it is simple trust. Trust that opens their eyes to glimpse God, in me and in themselves. In that union of my Father and me they come to share in a life that will last forever.

These sheep of mine will become, by grace, one flock with one shepherd. This flock will be struck and scattered across the face of the earth, for it is winter now, a cold and barren time.

But one morning the sun will rise, the hearts of ice will melt, and the Shepherd will repeat his eternal call once more. “Follow me.”

You may slaughter sheep but you cannot kill a shepherds love.

Not in winter, in fact not ever!”