The vet’s voice was kind and gentle, even pastoral in a way. I guess when you deal with animals and those who love them you develop that demeanor. She called to tell us the results of Nick’s x-ray had come back as “significant arthritis in the hip.” He’s only got one back leg and so has been hopping his way through life for all the years we’ve known him. I’m not really surprised this has happened. He’ll have to take it easy, she said, watch the pain levels, help him when needed. Of course, it’s part of the relationship isn’t it? Part of pet “ownership.” I put the quotes there because I’ve always wondered who owned whom in this association. Try telling the cats that we own them and you’ll get an appropriate feline stare of contempt.
There is a mutuality in the relationship of care. We look after them, feed and tend them, keep them warm and safe. Sacrifice at times, adjust our lives because they are a part of who and what we are. We love them and in return we are loved by them. And in that loving there is learning and there is knowing. We know them, know how they will react when a stranger appears at the door, know what it means when they pace in front of the door or sit by their empty water dish, when they stare at you as you sit at the computer instead of on the couch where they can lay beside you and put their head in your lap. Or even just sit close and know you’re there. There for them.
John 10:11-18 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."
This is a continuation of the previous passage. Last week Jesus said “I Am the gate for the sheep.” Now he says “I Am the good shepherd.” So, which is it? Well, are you an offspring or a parent? Are you a sibling or a neighbor? We’ve all got multiple roles to play. Jesus is searching for images that will make sense to us, that will connect with us. We need access and acceptance. Jesus is the door, the entrance, the way in to an experience of love and transformation. We need guidance. Jesus is the one who leads us.
And there it is. I know it seems innocuous to us. A no brainer to most of us. But we live in an “I got this” culture. “We don’t need no stinking leaders” is the mind-set. I once heard a commentator sneering at the passage in Matthew where it says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36) Paternalistic, was the cry. That’s the problem with religion, they would cry, it is a crutch, something to keep us down. We are meant to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Our heroes are the ones who made it on their own, the self made men and women who take what is a raw deal and turn it into gold. Those who push themselves, who claw their way up, who ...
Whoa, slow down there, Sparky. OK, sure there are those “dog eat dog” types out there, but surely none of them are reading this bible study. We know better. We are ready to follow the Shepherd. Right? Of course we are. I know that. Just making a point. Just engaging in some literary banter. I know that we always turn to the Shepherd when it comes to making decisions about how we will live our lives. I know that we will follow wherever He leads us, and do whatever He tells us to do. That we are ready and eager to live the life of faith that we are called to live, when we get a moment. In our spare time, Sunday mornings for sure, most of the time anyway, when we can squeeze it in. It is a busy life we lead, and we don’t always have room for everything that we would like to be able to do. Some days we are just getting by with the necessary stuff and are worn out before the extras. Like faith. Like life, abundant life.
Hmm. OK, maybe we all struggle with the idea of a shepherd. Of needing one, instead of being one, I mean. Maybe we too are more likely to say we can do it on our own than we need a savior. Maybe we are part and parcel of our culture more than we really want to admit.
Maybe we don’t want to be led all that much. Or maybe we struggle with it more than we would like to admit. But we certainly want to be cared for. Of all the I Am sayings, this one ranks near the top for most of us. Because we want to be loved. We want to be tended, healed and gathered up. To be mothered, and fathered. And that is certainly on offer here. That idea of a loving Shepherd, a loving Parent who will gather us up in strong arms of love and hold us close in the face of the terrors of living in this wild and wonderful world, is here in these verses. We can lean into that, trust in that, take comfort in that.
Comfort, but not complacency. This isn’t a lotus eater life we lean into. No, He makes it clear that the sheep are privileged to participate in this relationship, to live and be alive, not just crouch in a corner of a cage, safe and protected. We are allowed to play a part in the establishment of a new Kingdom, a new way of living and of being. It seems from this story to be in three stages, or three dimensions, this new way of living.
First He says we know Him. Yes, He knows us, thanks be to God. But we get to know Him, we are tasked with knowing Him, we are blessed to know Him. We spend a good portion of our time learning about Him, studying His Word, basking in His presence, gathering with others who are seeking to know Him. First we know Him.
Second, we follow Him. That was in the first part of this passage. Look back to verse three or verse nine, He leads us. So we follow. We put our lives in His hands, even as He lays His life down for us. Where You lead, we will follow.
So far, we understand, we accept, we long for this kind of relationship. But there is one more dimension He takes care to introduce. There’s an odd little random verse stuck in the middle of the passage that almost seems out of place. Go back and read verse 16. Sheep of other folds. Sheep you don’t know about, sheep we haven’t met yet. And He will call them, He will bring them, because for some reason He wants us all to be one flock. He wants us all to live this abundant life together. Even ones from the other side. Even the ones out there. The ones unlike us. He’ll call them, notice. He’ll bring them in His time.
So, what’s our job? What’s our role in this folding process that He has in mind for us? To be like the father who welcomes the prodigal home. We run to them, we greet them, we tell them they’ve come home and they are family. We include them. That’s our job. That’s our joy. That’s our hope, the hope of the Kingdom. Saying welcome home.