Jesus the Good Shepherd
Easter 4 (Year B) 22nd April 2018
Preached by Ven Andrew Mintern (Parish Priest)
Texts – Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18
Have a listen to this piece of music as a reflection to begin our service.
What does it make you think of??
Of course it is the beautiful version of Psalm 23 by English Composer Howard Goodall and used for the television series – The Vicar of Dibley. A lovely series set in rural England with a lovable Dawn French as a vicar mixing with the eccentric village folk and farmers.
Psalm 23 seems to capture the English Idyll of country life, but it is miles away of our urban lifestyle and miles away from the way sheep farming is carried out in Australia.
Yet Psalm 23 remains one of the most popular of bible passages. It is still invariably said or sung at funerals and other celebrations as well.
What is it that still draws us urban folk so strongly to the agrarian imagery that Psalm 23 evokes? Nothing I say will diminish or add to our own personal reaction to the power of the psalm.
Clearly the imagery around God as shepherd was just as powerful in Jesus’ day. He drew on it in his extended use of the metaphor in John’s Gospel. Today’s reading of “the good shepherd” is a critique by Jesus against his current religious leadership. Jesus makes this very clear in showing the difference between the good shepherd and the hired hand – A thin veiled attack on those who are not prepared to give their all, even their life, for the sake of the flock.
Like most of us I resonate with Psalm 23. I think the thing that grabs me first is that it is so personal. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
Some of the most powerful psalms are those which might be called personal psalms of trust and this is a great example.
The other thing the psalm does is assure me that God is for me. God the shepherd has my best interests at heart and will provide for me.
Yet the psalm is not too rosy and optimistic. It acknowledges that life can fall apart at times, we might walk through the darkest valley, the valley of the shadow of death, but even that will not stop God being with me, with his rod and staff. (The rod is the shepherd’s club used for fighting off wild animals and the staff was the shepherd’s tool for guiding sheep.) So I am reassured God will both protect and guide me in the midst of the hardest of times.
The psalm finishes with an acclamation of God’s blessing upon us. Being anointed with oil has royal connotations, however we are anointed not for a royal palace but to live in God’s house forever, and because of the many times we have heard this at funerals we think of that as dwelling with God in heaven eternally.
God the shepherd in psalm 23 is totally there for me, nothing can take me from the shepherd and my life and destiny is within his protection and guidance. Jesus assures us of the same in the Gospel, his interest is for us – I know my own, my own know me… I lay down my life for the sheep, I bring others into the flock and there is one flock and one shepherd. [verses 14-16]
This fourth Sunday of Easter – traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday – assures us that Christ is our shepherd. Jesus the good shepherd is always with us, always for us, always leading and guiding us, always sacrificing for us, always embracing us into the one flock of Christ.
Whether we have had intimate knowledge of farming or sheep becomes irrelevant. The assurance goes beyond the image that conveys it. God is with us always! No matter what!
Thanks be to God. Amen.