After a week’s vacation it has been wonderful to fall back into a routine. One really high point was returning to pericope group. It is fun to be gathered into one cadre of people who love to be re-interpreted by the text. And like so many sheep we were gathered around the words of the Good Shepherd. We tugged and pulled and teased the text as we pondered how a 1st century image makes an impact in a 21st century world. And the text tugged and pulled and teased us as it challenged us to hear words that challenge us to move past the hackneyed sheep images that populate 21 centuries of sermons and commentaries to hear again the subject who says of himself, “I am the good shepherd.” v. 11
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No 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.” (NRSV)
Jesus does not say, “You are the good sheep.” Jesus does not say, “You are the good hired hands.” Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Twice Jesus says this of himself. The subject of the text is Jesus. All talk about the sheep, or the hired hands, or even the wolf, risks talking more about the object and less about the subject.
Nowhere in this text is a promise made to the sheep that life will be/become trouble-free, worry-free, or even challenge-free as a consequence of being in the one fold. Nowhere is a promise made that life in the sheep pen will be easy, simple, less than difficult, smooth as butter, or showered in wealth. The promise is made that the Shepherd will “lay down his life” for the sheep, will gather other sheep into the one fold.
It’s so easy to preach a sermon that will make it seem that being “God’s little lamb,” means only prosperity and boundless joy—not so—not real—even a lie. #getreal.
Life in the sheep pen will have every issue that is endemic to the estate of sheep. We will have metaphoric hoof issues, and ear issues, dental concerns, biting flies, gnats, mites, scours, flukes, and other sheep stuff. Who needs a wolf to scatter us when we will trail—No!—-we will run off, from such as these and do so of our own accord. We will run away in the face of cancer, ALS, bad relationships. #sheeppenlife
And as we run away all crazy-ass from sheep pen concerns we will “lay down our lives” for no one. We’ll leave that to Jesus. We will be informed by our narcissism that we know best for self and others thereby setting ourselves up over other sheep as the hired hands. Oh, we know we are not the Good Shepherd, but we think we have all the answers for the sheep pen and therefore must invariably become hired hands. And when we realize, usually in the face of certain danger, perhaps the danger that it’ll be easy to see through our ruse, that we really have no answers, we obfuscate, lie, or run away. #allthatandabagofchips
The Good Shepherd does not solve our sheep pen issues. The Good Shepherd gathers sheep. The Good Shepherd dies for sheep. The Good Shepherd stands with sheep. #goeswiththemeverevenuntodeathandevenuntolife
But therein lies a noun that is only used to refer to Jesus in this text—-καλός—-Greek for “good.” It is a noun set side by side with another noun—-ποιμὴν—Greek for “shepherd” in this text. The word for “good” does not apply to sheep. The word for “good” does not apply to hired hands. It only applies to the Shepherd. Might this be the point? In a world where “wolves” seek to scatter, maim, and kill, might our preaching be used for the highest GOOD when it is only the GOOD SHEPHERD we exalt? When it comes down to the Shepherd shouldn’t we leave our other objective musings in the sheep pen? After all, in the text, he’s the only one lain down for our GOOD. In fact, he’s the only GOOD in the text at all.