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    Apr 22, 2018

    Sheep, Shepherds and "The Others"

    Sheep, Shepherds and "The Others"

    Passage: John 10:11-18

    Speaker: Father Will Lowry

    Series: All

    Category: All

    Keywords: easter

    We are not the ones calling the “other” sheep into the fold, it is God. That power belongs to God and God alone. Jesus makes that clear. Our job is to follow.

    The 4th Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. I think with our Gospel this morning it’s pretty obvious why. 

    This imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is very familiar to most. And, as we’ve discussed before, there is an image of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd” in most churches, certainly Episcopal Churches, I have been in. 

    But, I wonder if the analogy makes any sense to us anymore. What I mean by that is I think we have lost our collective knowledge of what a shepherd's job is and what it actually entails. Most of us can understand that a shepherd was a caretaker, guide, and guardian of a flock, but we don’t really know the intricacies of the job. Maybe we don’t know the stereotypes and realities that shepherds faced because we don’t have very many of them around anymore. That’s not to say that we know nothing, but simply that we have put it out of our minds because we don’t cross paths with shepherds regularly. 

    In all of my thinking and reading about shepherds and shepherding this week I thought about a longtime friend of mine who lives out in South Dakota. Kim and I grew up together along with our siblings in Mississippi. Our families were very close. Nowadays, whenever any of our family members get together, it is as if we have never lost touch or been separated by miles and life. 

    All of this talk about shepherding made me think about my friend Kim this week because she is in fact a modern day shepherdess (if that’s a word).

    And as I began to think about it more, I decided to call her and ask. My guess was that shepherding now and in the first century has probably not changed all that much. She told me about the dangers; weather, predators, food sources, expenses, strenuous physical labor… the list goes on. 

    Most of that fits with what we know about shepherds in the first century. They were a bit nomadic, leaving them open to much the same list of dangers. 

    On top of all of the dangers and hard work, shepherds were not thought of all that highly. In fact, for many Jewish people, especially the religious orthodox, shepherds were often despised. As William Barclay writes, “In the very nature of his calling, he [a shepherd] could not observe the petty rules and regulations; he could not always observe the hours of prayer; he could not perform all the minute regulations of hand washing before he ate; the claims of his flock made such things impossible and the result was that those who thought themselves good looked down on the shepherd as being low in the scale of religious precedence.” [1]

    So, for Jesus to claim to be a shepherd was a bit of a scandalous thing. (Like a lot of things Jesus did.) The one who claimed to be the Son of God, The Messiah, was also claiming to be one of the most lowly, ill-thought-of members of society. (We’ll come back to that later.) 

    Back to my friend Kim. We all pretty much understand the idea of the care a shepherd gives to a flock. As Kim puts it, “Those are my babies, they depend on me to keep them fed, to protect them, to keep them healthy.”

    Now, sheep in Palestine were not kept necessarily for their meat. More so, they were raised for their wool and that still holds true for some today. Like Kim does today, shepherds named their sheep. And Kim has taken the traditional concept of leading her flock rather than driving them as many do today in the western world.

    William Barclay also points out that this was another form of protection from the shepherds to the flock. “Thus when the flock came to any narrow rocky defile where robbers or wild beasts might lurk the shepherd was the first to meet the danger.”[2] In other words, the shepherd literally risked his life to save his sheep. Sound familiar?

    Another story that Barclay tells is from English journalist/author H.V. Morton. Morton traveled the Holy Land extensively and tells of his experience watching two flocks of sheep being put into a corral together in Bethlehem. Morton wondered how the shepherds would ever be able to separate the two flocks the next day. 

    Morton also noted that evening that there was no door on the corral, just an opening into it. He watched as one of the shepherds lay across the opening so that none of the sheep could get out and no robber could steal the sheep without crossing over his body. The shepherd was literally a door. I think Jesus makes a bit of a comment about this as well…

    The next morning what seemed an impossible task was remedied easily. The two shepherds stood outside the corral on either side of the opening. As each sheep exited, the shepherds would give their own particular call - and in almost miraculous fashion the sheep all went to its own shepherd. 

    So, maybe we should begin to wonder a bit more about what Jesus actually means with all this “good shepherd” talk we’ve heard. 

    Let’s review.

    Jesus, who claimed to be the Messiah, put himself in the place of a detested member of society and expected folks to believe things about him that were nearly impossible to believe.

    Then, to further the analogy, Jesus puts himself in an even more precarious position by telling the powers that be - those who have been using their authority to wrangle - to drive - others the direction they want them to go, Jesus tells them that they are going about it the wrong way AND that in fact they do not know what they are talking about.

    At this point Jesus basically does the equivalent of laying himself across the opening in the corral and says, “Over my dead body”. Let that sink in for a few moments.

    If that were not enough Jesus then tells the pharisees and us “I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice”. (John 10: 16)

    Now, if it hasn’t crossed your minds yet Jesus is talking both about us and to us. We are the ones who “do not belong to the fold”. We are the gentiles - the people who did not belong to the fold. We are the ones who will hear the particular call of Jesus and come into the fold. We are those sheep.

    And there are others. Those who do not look like us, behave like us, or even seem to be sheep at all. And like the sheep we are, that may scare us a little bit - when “others” join our fold.

    A couple of points to remember. We are not the ones calling the “other” sheep into the fold, it is God. That power belongs to God and God alone. Jesus makes that clear.

    Our job is to follow. To be “good” sheep - “good” examples of the One whom we follow, the One whom we trust, the One whom is the “Good Shepherd”. 

    You see, sheep don’t behave like cattle and other livestock, they don’t do well when driven or pushed. In fact, they tend to run around behind whatever force is pushing.

    Sheep only follow the shepherd they trust. And that is where we have to figure out what shepherd we are following, what shepherd we trust. Is it the one who has laid down his life for us, and risen from the dead. The one who has forgiven us when we don’t deserve it, the one who has loved us in spite of everything and calls to us still…. or is it some other shepherd we hear?…


    [1] William Barclay, And Jesus Said, pg. 176
    [2] ibid

    Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash