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

It is a real mistake to connect todayís lesson from John with the 23rd psalm.Todayís lesson makes reference to Ezekiel 34, in which the kings of Israel are criticized for being false shepherds.The good shepherd lesson is not set out in the bucolic country side but rather in the City of Jerusalem.

This lesson is not a free standing story but rather it follows 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 swarming hornets.Near the end of the story Jesus says to the Pharisees:ďIf you were blind you would not be guilty, but because you say you can see this means that you are still guilty. At the conclusion of the story John writes: The Jews took up stones again to stone him.

This lesson is about sheep as sacrifice and it flows out of the story of the man born blind.Johnís gospel began with John the Baptists 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.The Priests, Pilate and Herod are the thieves and bandits who work in and around the temple and keep it going.The hired hands are those who keep the futile wheels of the temple turning.

It is helpful to look back to verse 3.In verse 3 there is a gate keeper.There is only one place in Israel where there is a gate keeper.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.

The good shepherd lesson flows right out of the man Born Blind.Jesus disciples walk past the blind man.The disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused his blindness.Was it the manís sin or the sin of his parents?Jesusí disciples had to blame someone.In the lesson from John 9 the man is led to vision by Jesus, but in this longest section of Johnís 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.They become increasingly blind and angry.

ďJesus 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 the good shepherd.He tells this as a judgment against the Pharisees who are ridiculed as blind guides.

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.

Jesus is the perfect imitation of his Father.Jesus is able to make present on earth as a real person the way that his Father is the good shepherd of Israel.Jesus death on the cross makes it possible to have one flock and one shepherd.Jesus shepherds us together.So when Jesus says I and the father are one and the Father is in me and I am in the father, he is unbinding us from our past and opening us to a future like Godís original intent for his creation.

I started out by saying that this has nothing to do with the 23rd psalm and is connected to the 34th chapter of Ezekiel.Jesus did not come to bring peace but to recruit more good shepherds.Jesusí disciples are recruited to be both more good shepherds and substitute lambs.Last week we had the story from John 21 where Peter is called by Jesus to feed my sheep even as Jesus predicts that someone will one day fasten a belt around him and lead him where he doesnít want to go.The image is of being a lamb led to the slaughter.

The world has a nasty habit of making victims.It made a victim of Jesus.Jesus set an example for us by giving 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.Knowing the truth and taking personal responsibility is hard.God judged our judging on the cross and told us to stop.This takes the courage that only comes from being given everlasting life.††The Good Shepherd came that we might have His abundant life.Making us fearless because death is behind us, leaving us to be like our lord as both shepherds and sheep.

 

1.  What was going to happen to the sheep in todayís lesson?

2.  How is Jesus as a good shepherd different from the conventional shepherd.

3.  What does it mean for you to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you by name?