April 25, 2021
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 10:11-18, The Message or John 10:11-18, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
This reflection is drawn from a sermon which also reflects on Psalm 23.
The 23rd Psalm is perhaps the best known and most loved passages in the whole Bible.
Even though they had given up asking us to memorize Bible verses when I went to Sunday School, I can still almost recall the whole of this Psalm from heart – and using the original language of the Bible – the King James:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, ...
I wonder how old David was when he wrote this Psalm?
I ask this question, because as a now somewhat older man, I can recall in my youthful enthusiasm feeling similar feelings of confident assurance and trust. I’d had a taste of quiet waters and green pastures. I thought I’d had a taste of enemies and dark valleys.
However, as an older person, I can look back now and see that I had not yet truly faced an “enemy” nor had I walked the valley of the shadow of death.
And so I wonder how old David was when he wrote this psalm?
Like all that is good in the Bible we see here that David is not denying the realities that we too experience. Have we here not experienced the valley of the shadow of death? Faced enemies? Feared evils? He is not glossing over them or sugar coating them. But he is placing before us a larger reality, a wider frame in which these hardships may be experienced.
David invites us to reflect on how we are doing in our sheepishness.
If the Lord is my shepherd, how have I been doing at being one of the Lord’s sheep?
Can I, do I, recognize the Lord’s voice when God calls to me? Do I let myself be led beside still waters? Do I let myself be made to rest in cozy, abundant, nourishing pastures? Is my soul restored? How is my sheepishness?
These passages today are not complicated.
They have a pretty simple and direct message for those who will hear: God provides and guides and protects and restores.
Stop worrying and hurrying and relax and draw near. Tone down all the other internal voices with their lists of shoulds and coulds and musts, and listen for the voice of God in you, the voice of assuring love in you.
Burn the calendar and rest in the Lord. Sit down and let God’s blessings pour over you, wash you and restore you. God provides and guides and protects and restores.
And these are not simply words of assurance spoken by those who had it easy; who never faced trials or temptations themselves.
David knew what it was like to have to run and hide in fear of enemies. He knew what it was like to mourn the death of a child and the death of a dearest friend. And he knew what it was like to sin: to arrange the death of a trusted servant, to take land that wasn’t his.
And Jesus? Well you can either believe that Jesus was so holy that he didn’t really mind being tortured and brutally executed, or you can believe that he had so embedded the words of the 23rd Psalm in his heart that he could live what they say:
You have prepared a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me ... and I will live with you for ever.
Are you mourning today? Are you spiritually spent today? Are you afraid today? Is death nearby today?
David and Jesus are here today inviting us to enlarge our frame and hold our grief, exhaustion and fear in a larger, deeper reality: God provides and guides and protects and restores.
Be a good sheep today.
Relax. Listen. Drink. Eat. Follow. Live. Live in God’s presence, now and for ever.
This is good news.
Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, see link below, pages 178-183.
John 10:11-18 (NRSV)
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The 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. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No 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.".
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 10:11-18 (The Message)
11 "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. 12 A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. 13 He's only in it for the money. The sheep don't matter to him.
14 "I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. 15 In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. 16 You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They'll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.".
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement of source is not required in oral presentations. Otherwise please note as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."