John 10: 1-10; 05072017; 4 Easter
Over the years, I’ve read a number of Bible commentaries and such concerning the behavior of sheep. I have to tell you, I’ve been surprised at how much these writings can vary. Some writers have portrayed the sheep as relatively intelligent animals, each contributing to the strength of the flock. On the other hand, other writers have considered them to be rather mangy, and dumber than the proverbial rock.
That second option was the opinion of one of my seminary professors, who’d been raised on a large farm in Nebraska. In his scholarly opinion, Jesus had sort of dissed us as humans, when he metaphorically diagnosed us as sheep. I can’t remember the exact words that the good professor used anymore, but I do remember the gist of it. The good teacher’s view was that Jesus was implying we were pretty much incapable of looking after ourselves.
As I’ve read other opinions about this topic over the years, I’ve sometimes wondered if there are actually two kinds of sheep. Perhaps those praiseworthy sheep that some writers have cited are a more refined and intelligent breed. I haven’t found any evidence that such might be true, but then again, I’ve never raised sheep.
In our Gospel story this morning, Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In this rather short sentence, there are a couple of obvious lessons. The first is that if Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd, then there must a Bad Shepherd or two out there. And the second is that Jesus’s sheep know the sound of his voice. When he calls them, the sheep follow him, because they know the sound of his voice. They know the sound of his voice.
I’ve read some accounts of sheep in their folds, mixed in with the flocks of other shepherds. And I’ve heard that it’s true that the sheep can actually discern the voice of their own shepherds. When each shepherd calls out to his or her sheep, they will follow them out of the fold. But I’ve also read that sheep will at times follow the wrong shepherd if the animal is sick or confused. Since I’ve never raised sheep, I can’t witness to that, but it sure seems to have been apparent to Jesus.
Like most of you, I suppose, I’ve been following the healthcare debate that’s been dominating the news. I’ve also have been waiting for a press release from those pastors who attended the National Prayer Breakfast, along with President Trump. I haven’t seen or heard much, I’m sorry to say, given what’s proposed in the bill. Perhaps there’ll be resurgence in the faith healing business, for who have the means to afford it.
It’s had me thinking about benevolence this past week, as I’ve been following all the discussions. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been trying to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice coming out of D.C., as the House health care bill is debated.
As I’ve listened, I’ve been remembering a number of folks who have come to St. Nick’s for benevolence. Many of them are dealing with medical issues, and are ill in some way. Without insurance, the little money they have to give to a clinic is usually spent on their kids.
Most of the adults have what we now call “preexisting conditions.” And, since their options are limited, many go to the ER when they need to be treated. It appears that many of our elected officials no longer want to cover those costs.
This was not a partisan issue in the early days of the church. Jesus was always healing somebody as he traveled around, and he taught his disciples to do healings too. If we want to understand pre-existing conditions in Jesus day, we just need to read a few of those stories, and see what the poor were enduring.
Somewhere in the midst of it all, we must discern the Good Shepherd’s voice. As Christians, we’ve been called to be healers and to help to strengthen Christ’s flock. Jesus made it a point to address the healing of others, whoever they happened to be. If he thought it important enough to teach to his disciples, than shouldn’t we?
How hard it is at times, to hear our Shepherd’s voice. We have to take the time to do so, for we all need his healing grace. It’s getting hard for me to hear Christ’s voice right now, as our elected leaders speak. Even in the midst of what’s been called a prayerful Christian breakfast.
Sometimes it’s tempting to want to turn away. After all, we don’t really know the folks, who are getting pushed away. But we must learn from David, a man who knew deep down in his heart, that he could easily be there too. And so he prayed to the only one who could light his way: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in life, it’s that things go a whole lot better when I’m hearing Jesus. And I do I admit that there’s been times when I really didn’t listen. I have some scars and bruises that I’ve collected, following bad shepherds. Some of them could talk real good, and they made a lot of promises. Like, “It won’t hurt you to have some fun, and do some wild living.” Perhaps some of you are in that place right now, and are doing some repentant thinking.
For me, it all came down to learning the shepherd’s voice. I heard it loud and clear one day, and I really began to listen. There are days that I can hear his voice, and some days when I can’t find it. But there’s nothing on earth like his voice, and you will know it when you hear it.
So don’t despair, his voice is always there, filled with loving patience. He calls his sheep by name and then he leads them out. And when he has brought them out, he walks ahead of them. The sheep come out and follow him because they know his voice. May we each hear Jesus’ voice today, and receive abundant life.