Psalm 23/ 1 John 3:16-24/ John 10: 11-18
On Monday April 20 2015, we had the funeral of John Dawson, a soldier shot and killed in Afghanistan. He was a son and grandson of the Baxendale family, long standing members of this Parish of Trinity, Whitinsville. The readings from Psalm 23 and from John 10 at the funeral – repeated today – were deeply moving. Soldiers like John Dawson, who was a medic, can be numbered among those who willingly lay down their lives for others — in loving service to their country, community, or colleagues.
On the other hand, there are contexts and people who do not experience love. I think of the medical syndrome of abandoned babies at a children’s hospital (the Red Cross Hospital in Cape Town). No matter how advanced the medical care, those abandoned babies need to be loved – they waste away unless there are volunteers to love and to hug them each day. We all need to be loved. I also think of solitary confinement in prison, like that experienced by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or by that endured by some women in the middle east, which can send a person mad. The experience of human interaction and love is much more than a welcome part of life — it is necessary to survival.
Our gospel reading tells us that God has not abandoned us, but in Jesus, has come to give us life. The themes of God’s love, of the Lamb of God, and of the (Good) Shepherd run throughout the books bearing the name of John—the Gospel, the three epistles, and the Apocalypse or Revelation. For example, in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”. This is so appropriate to a week in which there was Earth Day. God loves the world and its people—which is a most important characteristic of Christianity. God is not indifferent, distant, or hostile to the world or to people, but God loves the world and its people, fauna, and flora; and loves us not just a little bit, but loves us enough to die for us.
John 10:11-13: We read that Jesus is the model or exemplary (kalos) shepherd because he is willing to die to protect his sheep; and in vs. 14-16, because he knows the sheep intimately. They know his voice (vs. 4), and he knows them by name (vs. 3b). Wicked shepherds are those that do not care for the flock. Godly shepherds are those rulers that (intimately) know and care for the people.
This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer emphasizes in his acclaimed, classic small book Life Together. For example: “The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.”
Here is a quote from Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. “[What do we do about automation?] Well first, we go back to the Dalai Lama. He says, ‘I think technology has really increased human ability. But technology cannot produce compassion.’ Man, that’s good. That’s why he’s the Big Lama.”
The purpose of Jesus’ intimate knowledge of the sheep is to bring these followers into union with Jesus, his Father, and one another. They will be gathered: the sheep are not isolated from one another, and they are not alone.
Other folds: Other groups that do not already believe in Jesus. This introduces the Gentile mission (see 11:52). It took some time for the early church to understand the figurative references by Jesus to a Gentile mission as meaning and intending that the Church would go to Gentiles and include them.
Personal appropriation: Like an abandoned baby or a person in solitary confinement, do you feel alone? Have you abandoned hope in or for yourself? The Good Shepherd knows you intimately. Hear him calling your name. Turn, today—like Mary in the garden—towards that mysterious voice of love. It is the amazing love that we see in 1 John 3:1 that washes away and destroys sin with a flood of grace. ‘Mary!’ said Jesus to Mary Magdalene. ‘My great one’, she replied. He can teach you again the sound of his loving voice, and in hearing it, you can come to know yourself. You can come to learn the divine language, and learn to know God’s guidance. You can come to know yourself not as abandoned and alone, but as more deeply known and loved than you have ever realized.