1 John 3:16-24
Thoughts on The Word:
John 10:11-18 (NRSV)
11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No 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.”
Today's Gospel reading talks about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who cares for his sheep. The reading contrasts this to a hired man who would run at the first sign of danger or trouble, after all he has no attachment to the sheep, he doesn't care for them – it's just a job and no job is worth dying for.
The overarching message and contrast is that the Shepherd doesn't abandon his flock, he defends it, he protects it and he will lay down his own life in order to save even one sheep in that flock. This is at the heart of the Gospel message. Jesus as the good shepherd considers each of his sheep to be precious, He knows each sheep personally. He was there when it was conceived, and at the moment it was born. He knows its parents, and its genetic make-up. Each lamb is different with its own name and each recognises and responds to the voice of their shepherd.
We of course are the sheep that Jesus cares for. Jesus was there when we were conceived and when we were born, He was there through all our joys and also through all our sufferings. We are very fortunate sheep indeed, for we have not been left in the care of a hired man, who has no concern for us and will run when the wolves come. Jesus fights for his people.
In fact Jesus loves his people so much that he willingly gives his life in order to save them – our Gospel reading today makes that clear for us – Jesus gives his life willingly, no-one takes it from him. What a love is this! It is something that I as a flawed human struggle to comprehend! I believe that I would probably lay down my life for those who I love, and who love me – But would I die for someone who hates me? Is my love for my fellow man enough that I would willingly sacrifice myself for someone who rejected me, or refused to acknowledge my very existence? Jesus lay down his life for the whole world – for everyone – even those who despise him. He is willing to welcome anyone into his flock, it is an open gift for all, and all we need do is reach out and accept it!
So we know we can trust Jesus as our Shepherd to protect us and keep us safe, in this life and the next... Why then do we still suffer, why do we come under attack from the world and from the evil one. If Jesus protects us shouldn't life be rosy now for the Christian? It is a good question and appears to contradict what Jesus has said in today's reading when we see Christians facing persecution, suffering from physical, mental and spiritual attack. The thing is though that Jesus never promised us that life in the world as one of his followers would be easy – in fact he specifically warns us in the Gospel according to St Matthew from chapter 10:16-33 that we will suffer, that we will face persecution and betrayal – even from our siblings and children. He tells us that we will be sheep among wolves – so how does this marry up with Jesus being the Good Shepherd?
The key is that we can be fearless – our Shepherd has already won the fight with the alpha wolf – Satan. We are assured of our salvation if we maintain our faith in Jesus. He will protect us – while we may sustain some physical wounds during our journey among the wolves, and be hurt, betrayed and suffer much anguish – we can take comfort in knowing that it is a temporary state. Though we may even die – yet we will live!
In our reading Jesus also tells us he has other sheep – not of this fold, that he will bring also, and all his sheep will become one flock with one shepherd. This is a reference to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles – to us! Now because Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of God, we know he didn't mean that he would personally go and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles – he uses his Church to gather the flock. Our journey among the wolves also has other benefits and blessings – you see when we are open about our faith, and fearless in living it and sharing it we have an affect on those around us. With God's grace working through our fearless love, in the face of persecution and pain, even wolves can lose there fangs and claws and grow a coat of wool – yes through the Grace of God even wolves can become sheep!
Yes we as those living among wolves – but under the protection of the Good Shepherd must live our faith without fear, with the assurance of the love and protection of our loving shepherd. We can live our lives reflecting on the great love of Jesus who willingly gave up his life for us, and for all who are willing to accept his gift.
As you begin your week, remember that if you have accepted that gift of love and entered the flock of Christ through putting your faith and hope in Christ alone, then you are blessed, you are under the protection and guidance of the Good Shepherd – listen for his calls, and follow where he leads and you will enjoy his love and protection for eternity.
If you haven't accepted the gift of eternal life from Christ but are interested in finding out how - please contact me, and I will be happy to help you discover more about the gift of salvation offered to you through Jesus.