This morning we hear the passage in which Jesus tells us that he is the
Good Shepherd, and we certainly have lots of references to sheep.
PS – Today is Good Shepherd Sunday
The 23rd Psalm that that we just read together also has references to the
Good Shepherd and it’s a Psalm that most of us are familiar with. We use it
several times a year and we use it at funerals, for words of comfort.
My goal this morning is that you to go home today knowing without a doubt,
that Jesus is your Good Shepherd and how important our relationship with
What is a Shepherd?
We all know that a shepherd looks after sheep, but, … what does a typical
shepherd look like?
In today’s world, shepherds seem to us to be pretty normal people, they
wear the same clothes we would wear if we were working in fields all day,
... but this was’nt the case at the time of Jesus, because shepherds were
really poor despicable people. They were treated as outcasts, considered
unclean. Somewhat like the Samaritan’s.
They were in fact nobodies, not wanted nor desired by society, and they
certainly were not welcome in most places, they were often unclean, un
kept, spending their time in the fields outdoors.
It’s interesting that Jesus uses Shepherds, people of low social standing as
the chosen people to be his instruments.
Maybe that’s a clue for us.
And it is truly amazing that God the Father choose shepherds to be the first
to witness the light, (the star) and announce the birth of Jesus.
You remember the story, from Luke where it says
“in that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over
their flock by night”.
An Angel appeared to them, and eventually they made their way to the new
born savior of the world.
So not only was Jesus’ birth humble and in a manger, but the
announcement of his birth was also done with humble means by these
lowly Shepherds who lived most of their lives in the fields.
And when we think about that, it’s really cool … because it seems to be
saying that Jesus was so outstanding, that he needed no grand ceremony,
no baby shower, no newspaper announcement to announce his presence,
... his majesty was so powerful, it just could not be hidden.
And this brings us to our Gospel reading this morning where Jesus boldly
says, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the
sheep, ... think about that.
Jesus is comparing himself with these unclean lowly outcasts, ... but this
time he is saying, … I recognize the good work the shepherds do for the
sheep, but I am the shepherd for all mankind.
And did you notice that Jesus said three times in this short passage that he
will lay down His life for us – his sheep. Jesus wants us to understand how
much he loves us ... and he wants us to know that His death is not a
victory for His enemies, ... his death was a voluntary sacrifice for us.
And to prove that it was voluntary we read of occasions in the gospels
where Jesus avoided capture and execution; he knew how to escape, but
when his "hour had come", he willing submitted his life for us – his sheep
as act of obedience. … Some people think it was Judas, Caiaphas or Pilate
who decided the time of his death, … but we know it was God the father
himself who was in control.
He then goes on to say, "he that is a hired hand and not the shepherd,
whose sheep are not his, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and
flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep”.
Jesus is now contrasting himself with the hired shepherds, meaning the so-
called religious leaders of the day, who were more concerned about their
own importance, ... and how they are seen by society, ... rather than
spreading the word of God.
This account of Jesus being the Good Shepherd is speaking about
relationships, not about sheep and shepherds. Jesus is trying to show us
the importance of true, deep and committed relationships. Jesus’
relationship with his flock (us), VS the hired hand (the religious leaders of
that time). Jesus who is willing to die for his flock and the religious leaders
who will run at the first sight of danger.
The religious leaders of that time were arrogant and looked down on the
people, … and that is why they became so upset with Jesus because he
could see through them
The religious leaders weren’t so concerned about the good deeds that
Jesus did, or truly what Jesus taught. They were mostly concerned about
their own survival. Jesus was cramping their style and possibly their
livelyhoods, that’s what was ticking them off.
Let’s look at the “Good Shepherd” in more detail, ... because the Old
Testament has so many men of God who were shepherds. Abraham, ...
Moses, ... and David to name a few, were all shepherds.
Look how God used these low members of society to spread his words!
Jeremiah 23 says "Woe to the shepherds who destroy the sheep of my
pasture says the Lord”.
It is you that have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you
have not attended to them. So, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says
the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock and bring them back
into the fold”.
God is speaking through Jeremiah here condemning the false shepherds
(those religious leaders of the day), who have scattered His people, … but
he then promises that one day He will gather his people like a (Good)
shepherd gathers the flock.
So, this shepherd thing had been going on for a long time, Jeremiah was
written some 600 years before John’s gospel.
If we look at Ezekiel 34, it says "As a shepherd seeks out his flock ... that
are scattered; so, will I seek out my sheep, ... and I will deliver them out of
all places where they have been scattered ... And I will gather them from
the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them".
Reassuring words, that though the flock (us), may in fact be scattered,
Jesus will gather his flock (us), and feed us.
Probably the most familiar, and every bodies favorite Psalm concerning the
Good Shepherd is Psalm 23, where we see a picture of Jesus as the ‘Good
Shepherd’, ... who seems to do everything.
Jesus leads them, ... or us whom we call Lord to greener pastures and still
waters. Jesus alone restores our soul and He leads us in the paths of
righteousness. … And did you note that at the very beginning of this Psalm
the term ‘my shepherd’, the Lord is 'my Shepherd', meaning that the writer
of this psalm, probably David, had an intimate relationship with the Lord, ...
I’d like to suggest that we should take this opportunity to consider if we can
truly say “the Lord is MY shepherd”. When we read this Psalm, are we just
reading words or is our relationship with God truly genuine enough to call
him MY shepherd?
And then in verse 4 there is the protection of his sheep, ... "Yea, though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou
art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me". And do you notice that
even while walking through the valley of the shadow of death, the psalmist
has no fear because this Good Shepherd is with him and watching over
him. Do we have that same sense of comfort?
Verse 5 goes on to say, "Thou prepares a table before me in the presence
of mine enemies: thou anoints my head with oil; my cup runneth over"
This Psalm has a brilliant ending, it says that goodness and mercy will
follow us all our lives, and … when we are finished, we will dwell in the
house of the Lords forever.
Is that not comforting?
I did some counting.
5 times in this Psalm is the word “MY”
4 times in this Psalm is the word “I”
8 times in this Psalm is the word “ME”
Those are pretty personal words, indicating that when we read this Psalm,
it should be personal, not just words.
Returning to John , Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd, and I know my
sheep, ... and my sheep know me.
This is getting deeper now, because Jesus is clearly alluding to the
relationship, we have with him. … We are loved individually by the
shepherd, ... and that is why He was prepared to lay down His life for us,
whether we deserve it or not
"The sheep hear his voice, ... and he calls his own sheep by name and
leads them out. ... And the sheep follow him for they know his voice. ... And
a stranger they will not follow.
Clearly, we are being told to establish this relationship
Yes, it is difficult, but we must learn to hear his voice.
With all the noise in life. Work, cleaning, kids, aging parents and friends,
just simply surviving.
How do we do that?
We do that through prayer, we do that through listening for God quietly, we
do that through our actions of giving, of peace, of concern for others.
Some of us have time, in which to get involved, some don’t. Some of us
have financial resources, some of us don’t, some of us are gifted prayer
people, some of us struggle. Wherever your strength is, use it.
Be a part of the flock.
We finish off this reading with Jesus saying "Therefore, my Father loves
me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. ... No man can
take it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and
I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my
Jesus is again telling us that he will lay his life down for us, ... but this time
he adds that He will also lift it up, ... and this is a clear reference to the
Jesus wanted them, and us, to understand that the cross will be no
accident, but part of God’s divine plan; the cross was no defeat for Christ,
and the resurrection was no afterthought by God.
It could have only be done by the sinless son of God. ... Jesus who was no
helpless victim here, ... and that is why he obediently went to the cross and
fulfilled the will of his Father, … to restore man’s relationship with God.
I therefore can’t emphasize enough our relationship with Jesus, the Lamb
of God who took away sins of the world, … so that we may be able to hear
his voice, … and answer His call. …
So, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, think about your Good Shepherd.
Can you say “ The Lord is MY Shepherd”. Not just words
Each of us as a community and our loved ones can be re assured by these
words – that the Lord will gather his flock together. We are not alone, we
are all members of his flock.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan