4th Sunday of Easter: Who are you, Jesus? Sheep, shepherd, and the lamb

Jesus has just finished a discourse that tells us about the relationship between Jesus and his followers.  These “I am” statements are key metaphors in the gospel of John.  Jesus declares “I am the door of the sheep [John 10.7],” not a thief or a robber.  Those who enter the door by Jesus will be saved [10.9].  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I come that they may have life and have it abundantly [10.10].”  Then Jesus says “I am the good shepherd [10.11],” who lays down his life for the sheep.  It is pretty clear who Jesus is, or at least who Jesus tells us that he is.  Jesus is our shepherd.

Now Jesus tells us about his relationship to God:  “the Father and I are one.”  Jesus’ statement is so outrageous that it is either from a man possessed or insane (10.19-21), or it is true.  This is not the day in which we follow what happens after these statements of Jesus.  Chronologically, we have followed Jesus’ life sequence beyond this point, on to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we are doing today is celebrating Jesus as our good shepherd, the one whom we follow, the one who knows our name.

Remember that being a shepherd is hard, dirty work.    Shepherds guard their sheep over rough terrain and far flung pastures; the sheep look for food on which to graze, and the shepherd must keep them together.  Shepherding is not work for those of high status.  Shepherding is not work for those afraid of the dark.

How appropriate, then, that our psalm is the 23rd, with its familiar and comforting words:  “yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”  This is a shepherd’s psalm, and we are God’s sheep.  To be a sheep is to be even less in charge than the shepherd.  We are led, and we follow our master’s voice.  Dr. Phil Heinz writes that we need to be careful with this psalm.  We need to remember that we are creature, not creator.  The shepherd is not “a service provider of green pastures and still waters or even the forever home in the Lord’s house.”  Jesus is not our service provider.  We are not the ones who guide our lives; we are followers, not consumers, of our faith.

We keep asking the question of Jesus:  Who are you?  Are you the Messiah?

Much earlier in our history the prophet Ezekiel was telling the people that God was angry with the shepherds who took advantage of and abandoned their sheep.  God declared, “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 34:11, 15)  The prophet Ezekiel gives us these words.    So God says “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”  Now Jesus is telling us that HE is the good shepherd.  Jesus is doing the work of God.  It is no wonder that the disciples and other followers and scribes and Pharisees – leaders and rulers and us keep asking, “who are you, Jesus?”

And we do not understand in part because we want Jesus to be our Messiah on our terms, to give us himself in a way that we both dictate and understand.  WE want to be consumers of our faith.  We demand that our Savior be who we want him to be.  But Jesus is OF God and IS God … and we most definitely are not God.  So we are called to surrender to the shepherd.  We are called to trust that the shepherd who is with us in the valley of the shadow of death knows the way.  Our shepherd knows the way.  Faith means believing that our shepherd knows the way, and surrendering our journey to him.  Because our good shepherd is Jesus, “green pastures can exist where there is no grass.  And still waters in the middle of a rushing river.  And the right path is the one we are on.” (Dr. Phil Heinz, paraphrased)  When we really surrender our will to God, our lives to our shepherd, then our “forever home in the Lord’s house” is with us today.  We have these precious and momentary experiences of heaven on earth today.

Jesus is with us.  That can sound like a trite phrase until we realize that Jesus our shepherd is also Jesus the Lamb.  Jesus is Lord not over the best times of our lives, but over all of the times of our life.  From the Rev. Susan Snook:  “Our Lord and Savior, the great hero who liberates us, is not the God of light alone.  Jesus is sovereign over the darkness, to, because he too has been enfolded by darkness.  Like us, he has grieved over the senseless waste and tragedy of life.  Like us, he has agonized over those who suffer.  As all of us will eventually, he has entered into the darkness of death.  And with all of us, he promises to walk that road so that we do not have to walk it alone.”

It is in the book of Revelation that we find this wonderful imagery of Christ the lamb.  Christ is THE Lamb who is slain.  It is Jesus’ blood and suffering, not our own, which saves us.  Jesus has already walked through terrible times.  He knows death; he knows evil and the unknown.  The people in the church, not just the martyrs, but the whole people of the church have washed their robes NOT in their own blood “but in the blood of the Lamb, that is, in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Caesurius of Arles)

Who are you, Jesus?  Shepherd, Lamb.  We submit to you, precious Lord, our lives and our wills.  Guide us to green pastures wherever we are, help us find calm in the middle of rushing waters.  We surrender, that you might lead.  Show us, dear Lord, how to follow.

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