I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.


Every 4th Sunday after Easter we have Good Shepherd Sunday.  Taken by itself you might connect it with the 23rd psalm, but it really has its roots in Ezekiel 34, in which the kings of Israel are criticized for being false shepherds.  At first it might also seem like a rural story, but it is in fact a city tale, the City of Jerusalem.


This lesson is also most often taken by itself, however I think it is not possible to see its meaning apart from what comes before it, which is the longest story in the gospels, the teaching in John 9 about the Man Who Was Born Blind.  You remember it: It ends like this, with Jesus making the Pharisees as mad as hornets swarming.  It ends like this, with Jesus saying to the Pharisees:  “If you were blind you would not be guilty, but because you say you can see this means that you are still guilty.


This lesson is about sheep as sacrifice and it flows out of the story of the man born blind.  John’s gospel began with John the Baptist’s saying of Jesus: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  Jesus hands himself over to the sacrificial machinery of the Priests, Pilate and Herod to become the Passover Lamb.  These are the thieves and bandits who work in and around the temple and keep it going.  The hired hands are those who really do not lead the sheep out but just also keep the futile wheels of the temple turning.


In verse 3 there is a gatekeeper.  No place other than the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem is there a gatekeeper.  He counts the sheep being brought in for sacrifice and he pays off the shepherd.


This is the place the shepherd leaves his sheep for good.  The shepherd does not enter the stockyard; he abandons the sheep to be slaughtered.  But Jesus the Good Shepherd walks right in the gate and goes ahead of the sheep, and out into the temple courtyard to be slaughtered.  Jesus lays down his life as the Lamb of God on the cross as a sacrifice.


John 10 flows right out of the man Born Blind.  Jesus disciples walk past the man.  They ask Jesus whose sin caused his blindness.  His or his parents?  His disciples had to blame someone.  In 5 verses the man can see led to vision by Jesus, but in this longest section of John’s gospel the story reveals a different kind of blindness.  Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, which was considered wrong.  At the same time the seeing man increasingly makes claims about Jesus and finally he worships him.


The blind man becomes increasingly clear in his sight while the Pharisees became increasingly blind to who Jesus is.  Increasingly blind and angry.


“Jesus said, I came into the world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.  Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him; surely we are not blind are we?  Jesus said to them, if you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, we see, your sin remains.


What is their sin that remains?  The sin of inaccurate judgment.  Judgmental seeing that took Jesus to the cross.  There is no break between the story of the man born blind and this teaching about Jesus, the good shepherd.  The two stories are mirrors of each other ending with the audience wanting to throw rocks at Jesus.  He tells this as a judgment against the Pharisees that he ridicules as blind guides. The metaphors shift rapidly.  First Jesus is the good shepherd, who walks in to the stockyard, then he is the gate, now with Jesus as the gate the sheep move freely between shelter and pasture and back again.  No longer will they be herded to the altar of sacrifice.


In other words, the difference between the sheep, the victims, and the shepherd disappear.  Here is a shepherd who is himself a victim, and he will lead the sheep out of the sheepfold.  If this were just a story of comfort, about Jesus caring for his people why would it end up with the people picking up rocks to throw at Jesus?


Way too many people are sacrificed in our society.  Jesus set an example for us as one who gives up himself for others.  Self-sacrifice rather than making someone else pay for your mistakes.  This is the love each of us is called on to live in.  It can be frightening.  Relying on Jesus instead of ourselves.  Judgment Day is exploded!  “I came into this world for Judgment and the Judgment is done.  It happened when we judged Jesus guilty and put him on a cross.  God judged our judging on the cross and told us to stop.  God so loves us that he asks us to live now and eternally.  The Good Shepherd came that we might have His abundant live.