(Fourth Sunday of Easter)
Rev. Mary McCue
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
When I told a friend, I was preaching on the text of the Good Shepherd, her reaction was, “Don’t we all need one these days?” I think my friend was right. We all need a good shepherd these days. Someone to help us find the right way – to guide us, with his voice, to safe places. Someone we know, who knows us. Someone who is with us in all weathers, in tough places and always brings us home.
The image also evokes the Old Testament. Moses was a shepherd. So was King David.
It’s a, timeless beautiful image – a good shepherd that cares for his sheep, even to the point of laying down his life for them. And it’s inclusive; he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold that he must bring in also. There will be one flock, one shepherd.
And the flock, and we, have a good shepherd these days – Jesus Christ.
In this section of John’s Gospel, we learn much more about Jesus Christ and his mission on earth, because he tells us much more directly. We all remember earlier Gospels. Jesus asked his followers and his beneficiaries to keep his deeds and words secret. He performs his work indirectly, through healing, through teaching, through preaching, through traveling through the countryside to meet them. By this point in John’s Gospel, he has already been transformed water into wine, been a good shepherd to the Samaritan woman, cured the royal official’s son, and healed the paralytic by the Bethzatha pool. Plenty of signs!
Now, Jesus begins to be more direct. He begins using the phrase, “I am.” He is telling the disciples – and us – what he is and what his mission is about. “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the World.” “I am the gate for the sheep.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the light.” “I am the way and the truth.” “I am the true vine.” Consider those beautiful images: bread of life – the way of the truth – light of the world.
Those seven references in John’s Gospel are simple, direct, in language everyone can understand. Jesus is not only showing his disciples and the people who he is through his works. He is telling them directly. His, “I am” also echoes the Old Testament of Yahweh, who says, “I am that I am.” And his allusion to the vine is one found in the Old Testament as well. Jesus is bridging the teachings of the law into the teachings of the spirit.
This section of the Gospel, called the Book of Signs by scholars, is about Jesus giving us more direct insight into his mission on earth. Scholars say that John’s Gospel is focused on the individual’s relationship to God, rather than on Jesus’ works. His “I ams” certainly focus on the individual’s relationship to God, by describing who he is to them – and to us. As the words oftoday’s Collect say, Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calleth each by name and follow where he doth lead.