What do you need to be rescued from? What do you look for in a Saviour? These are questions that we encounter through the Gospel this week. It is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Sunday when Jesus tells a group of Pharisees who are disputing with Jesus over the man who has just been giving his sight, that he is the Good Shepherd and that he will give his life for the sheep.
Some important things we ought to keep in mind about shepherds. They are not the friendliest people. The are often out on their own with the flock and they are often outcast from the community. They are the sole defenders of the flock. They must know where the pastures are for the flock to eat, how long to stay and when to go. They need to be experts in the art of defense and of first aid. The staff is to drawn in the sheep to care for them and the rod is for defense of the flock and self.
And sheep, I am sorry to say, need rescue. Often. They are not the brightest of creatures. They get hurt and get lost on a regular basis. Here is something important about them though. They will not follow just anybody. They follow the voice of the one who cares for them. The shepherd is there for them from the moment they are born to the moment of their death. The shepherd is their life and they follow his voice – to whatever end. But they also are attacked by other, wild animals and they wander off to find better pastures and more food and need to be rescued.
The Gospel this week (John 10.11-21) is very much a parallel between the shepherd and the sheep along with Jesus and the Church. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Church are his sheep. It should be noted that the Pharisees are there too, as hirelings, though the picture of who they are is not flattering. They know and see this in what Jesus is saying and object to being painted as runaways.
Much of this section of the Gospel is the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus – a polemic about who the true leader (shepherd) is. The Church affirms Jesus as the ‘Good’ or ‘handsome and effective’ Shepherd. In doing so, there is also laid down for the leaders within the Church community, a pattern for ministry that asks, even demand everything of a shepherd, a pastor. Pastors cannot escape pain and suffering for the life of the flock, it is inherent in the life of those who do ministry and lead the community. It is what is meant, at least in part, by calling Jesus, “good”. Ministry is more than a job or even a profession. It is a vocation (Latin: vocation), a calling. We called first to know God and to be known by God then we are sent to make God known in the world. Ministry is not about what a particular person does, but rather how the community through all its people, serves God in the world.
Think of it this way: growing up, we had lots of animals. Horses, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats amongst others. The interesting thing is that the animals knew who the real care taker was. Mom. I could feed them and do things for them, but it was always obvious where their true affections lay. The response to mom was deeper and more real than to anyone else. The same needs to be true for the Church where Jesus is concerned. Jesus gives through sacrifice of himself and his life. Pretenders don’t… they won’t let it all on the line when it matters. That’s the difference. They come in some other way and in doing so they are not able to bring life. They are not able to submit to the Father and to his will and so actually end up stealing life instead of giving it.
The very presence of Jesus in this place in this moment, creates division and marks out those who are the Israel of God. He knows them and they follow him because they know his voice. What can he rescue you from? Will you follow him?