In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Which shepherd are you listening to? Alas. In this world we cannot help but follow one. Either we follow one that leads us to good things, with green pastures and still waters, or we follow the shepherd who is actually a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep and leaves us to our own devices in the midst of so many wolves. But we listen to one of them.
Our Gospel lesson, not surprisingly, falls into a larger section in John’s Gospel. It comes right after the healing of the man born blind—a series of events resulting from Jesus’ healing, in which the powers that be confront this man and his family about Jesus and his ability heal though his is obviously a sinner. The man rejects these leaders who cannot see for the man who gave him his sight. Jesus then confronts some of the Pharisees who could not leave well-enough alone and were offended that he would dare say that they were also blind. “Are we also blind?”
“If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” Tragically, these men, who are supposed to be the shepherds of the people, are blind to the truth, and doggedly determined to refuse to give up the reins on the carriage they are steering toward the ravine. In refusing to surrender spiritual authority to Jesus, they have locked themselves in a death match with him.
This leads Jesus into the discussion about the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd is the door by which the sheep enter, that guards them while they sleep. Any who would come to lead them away would have to jump over the fence to gain access to them. But Jesus says that even if they are stolen away, it will be neither for the good of the sheep or the good of the wannabe shepherd, because the sheep only know and trust the voice of the true shepherd. The lives of the sheep obviously do not matter to the thief since no good can come of his meddling. The Shepherd cares that his sheep survive and have good sheep lives.
The shepherd, Jesus says, is even willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Think here of David when he was laying out his credentials to Saul when David asked to fight Goliath: “Your servant [David] used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by the beard and struck him and killed him. You servant has struck down lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them…” David saw that one of his sheep was being carried away, and he did not hesitate, he flew after the animal, be it lion or bear, and killed the enemy if it tried to confront him. Without armor, with simply a sling and a stick, he fought animals that could easily kill him. Yet he did it because he cared for the sheep.
It is in this context that Jesus addressers the people today. At the Feast of the Dedication, that is Hanukkah, the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” This question needs a bit of clarification. The Feast of the Dedication is the day honoring the rededication of the Temple after it was defiled by the Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes. A Jewish Messiah (Christ in the Greek) named Judas Maccabeus rose up and lead the Maccabean Revolt that resulted in the restoration of Jewish rule of Jerusalem. This what the people are expecting when they ask Jesus if he is the Christ on the Feast of the Dedication.
At this point in his ministry, Jesus had already done six of his seven signs that point without a doubt, as John lays it out, to Jesus as the true Christ sent from heaven, who is also the Son of God. Yet these people ask for a sign. Jesus says, “What have I been doing all this time?! I told you, and you do not believe. The works I do, I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.”
Now we are back on sheep again. Jesus is telling them that they have been stolen away by a thief and they have now become so used to the thief’s voice that they no longer obey the voice of the Good Shepherd. They have chosen death over life.
Now looks what happens right after our lesson. “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
Jesus tries to reason with them to show them the way back, but they will have none of it. They prove themselves to be sheep of a different shepherd. He offered them eternal life plainly many times. Ht6ye asked him plainly, and plainly he offered it to them. Yet when he showed them his authority, they rejected it, proving to be, not only as blind as the blind man was before Jesus healed him, but also deaf to the call to return once he revealed to them that they had been lead away. So Jesus’ saying remains true, “Now that you said, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
Now it is easy for us to write these people off as idiots, because we can see it in black and white right in front of us—they are openly rejecting Jesus. Yet, are we blind to our own attempts to do the same? It happens all the time. Sheep are dumb creatures, they constantly run off and do their own thing and that gets them into trouble. Then the shepherd comes and rescues them, restoring them to the fold and their safety.
They are blind to it just as we are when we sin. Hopefully this is not done with the expressed intent of walking away. This is different. This is exactly what Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of doing—knowingly walking away. Sins happen. We are sinful people in a sinful world trying our best to follow Christ through the mist caused by sin. But if we claim to see while we are still blind and reject all the help offered to us to follow Christ, our guilt remains with us.
Beloved we are pulled by two people claiming to be our shepherd. One is the true shepherd that wants our safety and protection. One is the hireling who leaves us to our own devices and ultimately to be consumed.
Jesus gives us the remedy in our Gospel lesson today. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The way to decipher whom to follow is by listening. One calls us with the sweet voice of a friend and leads us to greatness. The other calls with the harsh voice of a stranger who leads us to our doom. We hone our listening skills through reading Scripture, daily prayer, and the receiving of the Sacraments. This this not only gives us ears to hear, but clears the fog to reveal the identity of the shepherd. If we are following the Good Shepherd, well and good, but if through this increased awareness we see the hireling, we know not to follow.
Beloved, we are given the tools to determine our eternity. All we have to do now is use them.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.