As promised, today I turn my attention to the Gospel lesson appointed for Easter 4, Year B. Each year, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear a portion of Jesus’ Good Shepherd monologue. That’s how Good Shepherd Sunday is a thing. And, each year, the focus is slightly different. In Year A, it is about Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold. In Year C, the focus is on hearing and knowing the voice of the shepherd. Here in Year B, the message of the Good Shepherd is all about death and resurrection.
According to Osvoldo Vena of Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, in the Old Testament tradition, the ideal shepherd was one who was willing “to sacrifice themselves for the welfare of the community, to give one’s life so that others may live.” By calling himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus takes on the fullness of that Hebrew Bible imagery and places it over and against the image of leadership that he sees in the Pharisees (an image that John sees even more clearly in the post-Temple Pharisees of c. 90AD) that is “exclusive and self-serving.”
Of course, for John, this is all looking ahead to the Garden scene wherein Jesus isn’t approached by his betrayer, but rather, hands himself over for arrest, torture, and death. From the Good Shepherd in John in Year B, we learn about self-giving love. What we, as preachers, should be careful of, however, is lifting this ideal up as something that we can attain. Despite several commentaries that suggest that God is calling us to be good shepherds, I’m off the mind that says this isn’t a simple moral lesson that Jesus is giving. He isn’t saying, “look at me and do as I do,” but rather, Jesus is the only Good Shepherd, and we are and always will be the sheep.
What we learn from this lesson isn’t how we can be good shepherds, but rather, that we ought to follow, and even worship, the one Good Shepherd. In Christ, God has established us as part of the one flock whose pasture is the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven. As sheep, we ought to listen for the voice of the one who was willing to lay down his life for us, and then follow where he leads. That is our prayer, after all. Each Easter 4, we ask God to help us both to have ears to hear and hearts to follow. May our ears be open to the call of the Good Shepherd and may we be blessed to graze in the pastures of the Kingdom of God.