"The Good Shepherd Cares For You"

A Sermon based on John 10:1-16

In his earliest days, when Jesus was teaching in Galilee, surrounded by fields of grain, he spoke about God in terms of a sower and some seed; he spoke about heaven in terms of wheat and harvesting. That was back in the early days when Jesus walked through the farmlands of upper Galilee.

Alongside the lake -- the Sea of Galilee -- he changed metaphors. Jesus spoke about fishermen and nets. Later, while he was passing through Samaria, speaking to a woman who was drawing water from a well, Jesus spoke about God in terms of a "life-giving spring" of water welling up from within...

Each parable (or metaphor) Jesus used was appropriate to that specific audience and to their daily experience. On a hillside, for example, Jesus spoke about God's Kingdom in terms of "lilies of the field" and "birds of the air." Walking through a vineyard, Jesus told a story of vineyard workers who were disgruntled with their pay, and he offered that wonderful illustration of connectedness to God's Spirit, when he said: "I am the Vine; you are the branches..."

Each of these metaphors (or parables) reflected every-day experiences... accessible to everyone in his audience... appropriate to the business at hand: farming, fishing, daily chores in the home, experiences village people knew well.

In today's Scripture lesson, Jesus speaks about God in terms of a sheep's "door" and he articulates the qualities of a good shepherd.

Now, if his pattern was consistent (as I believe it was) -- speaking in terms most easily understood and immediately relevant to his audience -- we would expect Jesus to use these pastoral images (flocks of sheep) with a group of shepherds out on the hills of Judea (perhaps even among some of those very same shepherds near Bethlehem, who had celebrated his birth at Christmas!).

But, no... This time it seems that Jesus entirely missed his audience. (!) He is not in the countryside, but in the Capitol City: Jerusalem! Here he should be talking about merchants and politicians, about the priests & the Romans occupying the city; or addressing the corrupt dynasty of King Herod's monarchy.

Here in Jerusalem we would expect Jesus to offer some CITY talk… Temple talk, maybe even tax-payer's grievances... here in the Capitol City.

It really looks as though Jesus missed his audience when you read on to what happened as a result of these sayings about the gatekeeper of the sheep, the qualities of a good shepherd, and the failings of the “hireling” who doesn’t really care about the flock. Immediately following these words (in which Jesus refers to himself as the sheep's door and offers himself as the good shepherd) -- words which give us Christians a warm glow of godly acceptance -- the people in the Temple picked up stones to kill him! (!) The authorities tried to arrest him!

What is it about these "shepherd and sheep" stories in John's Gospel that so enrage the civic & religious leaders in the Temple? I would have thought they had nothing to do with herding sheep! They are priests & politicians, after all… not shepherds. (!) The only sheep they ever saw were being brought as sacrifice... or in the market as meat, or for the value of their fleece… their wool.

Even though the religious leaders were not THEMSELVES shepherds, they were certainly familiar with the system of marketing sheep: people out in the villages who owned the flocks and who hired day-laborers to serve as shepherds. Why would Jerusalem’s Civic Leaders get so "bent out of shape" over Jesus’ words about sheep and their shepherds?

Let's hear his words again -- recalling that Jesus said these words in response to the Pharisees' question "Are we also blind?":

Jesus said: The one "who enters by the door is the shepherd

of the sheep. To [this one] the gatekeeper opens.

The sheep hear [this one's] voice, calling each by

name; [this one] leads them out. When all have

been brought out, [this one] goes before them…

… and the sheep follow, for they know [this one's] voice.

A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee;

for they do not know the voice of strangers."

This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand...