Easter 4C, 2019, John 10:22-30
Psalm 23, a shepherding psalm, is the best known of the psalms. It is a shepherding psalm containing powerful images of God’s unseen, companioning presence with us in life’s most wintry moments. When Jesus uses this pastoral image in John 10, his commitment to shepherding gains force when we realise sheep grazed in the open, harsh, Judean hills, always vulnerable to predators.
Howard Wallace notes that in this psalm, the psalmist relates to God in a personal and intimate way, a trust that whatever life delivers, God accompanies us.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When bad things happen to good people, shared in an interview that Psalm 23 is the answer to the question, “How do you live in a dangerous, unpredictable, frightening world?” What inspired him to write his book was the death of his son, who was 14 years old and was born with an incurable illness. He said:
“Where did we find the strength and the ability to raise him, to comfort him when he was sick and scared, and ultimately to lose him? And the only answer is, when we used up all of our own strength and love and faith, there really is a God, and [God] replenishes your love and your strength and your faith.”
The Psalm inspired his faith. And in a true Rabbinical, dialectical fashion, inspired not just pious affirmation to trust God, but he implicitly suggests that when God shepherds you then you are truly empowered when you shepherd others.
On the one hand, he said,
“The role of God is not to explain and not to justify but to comfort, to find people when they are living in darkness, take them by the hand, and show them how to find their way into the sunlight again.”
Then, on the other hand, he deals with why people get stuck and guilty, and in this way, empowered by his own faith, he deals with the self, the inner life and anxieties of people in despair and resignation.
We can never separate theology and psychology, or politics!
In our story in John 10:22-30, we need to ask why John’s Jesus connects his being the shepherd of his followers with the Messiah. Ezekiel 34 combines the two notions. He images the shepherd messiah as the One who would treat people differently to the political leaders of his day. As William Loader reminds us:
“Shepherding was a big metaphor which could encompass the vision of the reign of God with the full range of political, social, and personal dimensions which that entails. It is much bigger than ‘pastoral’ care, understood often in a very limited sense without the wider dimensions.”
If the Living Risen Spirit of Christ continues a shepherding presence in this larger way, we could say that the Spirit of Christ urges us to work radically, inspiring us to work for the common good and to keep our political and institutional systems honest and genuine. This would certainly require a larger and more robust notion of God, Jesus and our growth towards more self.
William Loader further suggests that this power struggle with some of the Jews, which we see in our text, is happening in John’s church.
It is a power struggle for leadership of God’s flock. Something terrible has happened. The flock has not responded; only some have recognised the hidden messiah, the true shepherd. And even that flock is being dissipated by dissent.
Rev Vladimir Korotkov