Readings: Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10, Psalm 23.
By the Revd. Fran Davies.
This Sunday is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday.’ The date has changed over the centuries, (check with Wikipedia) until it was settled to the fourth the Sunday after Easter. The compilers of our lectionary ended the Gospel reading at verse 10 but it is in verse 11 that Jesus refers to himself when he declares, “I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” and I wondered why the extract finished at verse 10. So why is this good Shepherd Sunday? So, I read the verses 1-10 more closely.
Easter is the season when people refer to such items as pretty flowers, chicks, baby lambs and sunshine, all painted in pastel colours – the things which point the new life which each spring brings, but which Christians also see as the new life offered to those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (John 3:16), a new eternal life of the Spirit. In days when we could, my other half and I used to tour around to see if you can spot the first lambs of the year in this lovely countryside. A sign of spring and the promise of summer (such as it may be).
It is not surprising that Jesus used the image of lambs, sheep and shepherds because they were part of his countryside too – part of his life. He would have learnt Psalm 23 with the other psalms and seen shepherds at work as they led their flocks to find pasture in the hot, dry landscape. His picture of a shepherd going into the sheepfold where several flocks would have been penned together for safety from human and animal predators is one he knew. But he describes himself as ‘the gate’ to the sheepfold here, not the shepherd. Once the animals were safely corralled for the night, the important gate was shut to protect them. He is referring to himself as a protection for those who follow him. Verse 10 emphasises the importance of recognising him as the leader who waters, cares for and knows his flock, and who leads the sheep to safety. The gate is open for those who know him, his care for them and his love for them, for those who recognise the difference between those who would harm and those who would help the sheep.
The epithet of being sheeplike is one which can offend. It implies mindless following, but to follow Jesus is not mindless – it is following a loving care. At this time in history, our prayers mean much, and our beliefs can help us to realise that we are important (as each sheep is to the shepherd) and we can use this time to get closer to our shepherd, and that we are safe. Is it also possible to use it to let others know about this?
You have probably known that Psalm 23 can give it to the name of ‘Good Shepherd Sunday,’ the familiar well-loved him of the Shepherd King, David. Let the Lord and his Son be our shepherds and bless the world.