Homily for 4.26.15
(revised from ahomily first posted
In today’s Lectionary Gospel reading we find a passage of depth and beauty. Here, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, and in so doing he offers us a powerful metaphor for describing his purpose, his calling and his work.
The word here translated “good” is the Greek word: kalos (καλός), and besides “good” it can also be translated, “beautiful,” as in an “outward sign of an inward good.” In this way the word denotes that which is within a person, that which is worthy, honorable and honest, or one that is beautiful because they do the worthy, honorable and honest thing, and in that way they are inwardly good and outwardly beautiful. (for more, go here)
Here we see in Jesus — the Good and Beautiful Shepherd — the one who willingly fulfilled his Father’s calling to lay down his life for the sheep of his fold and for the sheep not of his fold, so that he might restore the world. This shepherd metaphor, therefore, alludes to the calling of Jesus by the Father to be the Jewish Messiah, a calling meant to finally reclaim, restore and fulfill the promises GOD made -- from Abraham through to Israel -- to his chosen people.
Said differently, GOD is in Christ reconciling the world through the cross-work and the resurrection-work of the Good Shepherd, whose finished work on the cross, through the resurrection and in the ascension certainly will restore GOD’s good world as he represents and defends his chosen people, but curiously, not only his people.
That is, because GOD is good (beautiful) he seeks the good of his people both Jew and Gentile, finally succeeding to tear down the barriers that divide us (overturning Babel) and to restore our relationship with him (thus returning us to Eden). In this way GOD has future plans for his good but broken world. Far from turning from away from his world as damaged goods, GOD intends to restore it to that of a beautiful cathedral, and a place of worship, enjoyment and plenty.
Let us move a little farther toward the text, and let us unpack a little more in order to find a way into it. We might do so by asking just what makes a good shepherd?
FIRST: The Good Shepherd
Lays Down His Life.
The text reads:
"I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”
We know that Jesus considers himself the Good Shepherd because in his sacrificial love for his people he willingly offers his life for the flock of God. This, of course, is in contrast to the hired hand, who does not have to be good -- not for a bunch of sheep anyway -- because the sheep do not belong to him. That is, the hired hand works for the coin and not the care of the sheep.
St. Paul nails down the kind of love found in the Father’s sending the Son when describes it, writing:
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Overwhelming power shines through this — the sacrificial love of Christ. By this I mean to say that the message of the Gospel quite literally stuns those with ears to hear into gratitude, worship and then silence. Knowing we could not reach the kingdom God planned and is determined to bring forth, and knowing how the sickening stench of death reigns among men and women as our hated legacy, Christ faces the “wolf” of evil and empire, defeats them on the cross and in the resurrection and is set apart as king of the world through the ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
And remember, there stands between God and us no good reason for his love to blossom toward us. We continually hold within us the heart of darkness and selfishness. Still, Christ offers his life for the people out of sheer grace. This reality must never be forgotten.
SECOND: The Good Shepherd
Knows His Sheep (and they know him).
Here, the text reads:
“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me…”
The Good and Beautiful Shepherd knows his sheep; he knows which ones are his. His continued focus on his flock means that he can recognize their sound and that they can also recognize his.
Later, in this same context, Jesus says:
“My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me.I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. So no one can take them from me. The Father and I are one.”
That is, there is such a closeness of community and relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, that the shepherd willingly would offer his life to save the sheep, and the sheep therefore trusts the shepherd’s loving care.
Said differently, the response of the flock to the shepherd’s love is faith, hope and love.
Faith in the Good and Beautiful Shepherd is the initial and the ongoing response to the shepherd’s sacrificial love in laying down his life for the sheep. In faith the relationship is forged within the furnace of forgiveness, new life and the new way to live.
Hope follows faith not in order but in response to the now-not yet of the coming Kingdom. That is, we believe by faith that the Good and Beautiful Shepherd is birthing the kingdom, but as of yet we still live within the old ways of the human condition, where the death still seems to have a sting. And so now we hope in the promises of the King while we wait for him to surprise us with the Kingdom realized.
Love for the Good and Beautiful Shepherd materializes through the faith in his goodness and the hope through his sacrifice. And this love is expressed in obedience to the way of life set down by the Good Shepherd’s pattern — sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness.
THIRD: The Good Shepherd Even Lays Down His Life for Sheep Not Of His Fold.
Here the text reads:
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
How can we plumb the depth of the Good Shepherd’s inward beauty? Not only will the Good Shepherd lay down his life for his own sheep, but he will do the same for sheep not his own!
This attitude of extending his loving care to those not his own reminds us of the self-giving, sacrificial action that goes beyond what we understand to be love today. So divided are we along nations and tribes, both ethnic and religious, that this type of love comes to us as some ancient and lost, long-dead language. We hear it, but we do not understand it.
We can see what is at stake by asking just who we would prevent from finding God’s grace? Who is so hated in our hearts that we would leave them out of the care of the Good and Beautiful Shepherd and ultimately out of God’s Kingdom. Be sure of this, God loves that person, and you are on someones list of being left out!