Type “Palestinian Shepherd” into an internet search engine and hundreds of websites try to introduce you to a person. In Palestine, a shepherd is real; a real person, a real voice, a real way of life for people. Not so in America.
Type “American Shepherd” into an internet search engine and you will look in vain for a person. Hundreds of websites will introduce you to dogs: White Shepherds, Tundra Shepherds, and King Shepherds. A few websites will even give you the American recipe for Shepherd’s Pie. But a human being? Well, that is not as easily found.
America has shepherds, of course. Real shepherds who tend real sheep. But they do not make our front pages. They do not have the cultural predominance they have in other countries. We do not see them in our commercials. They do not smile at us from billboards as we drive on the highways. They do not make the top-ten in any music genre or serve as the main figure in a drama on Netflix. Culturally, they remain hidden. For most Americans, it would be hard to name the last time they saw or interacted with a real shepherd.
This means that, for most Americans, the ways of a shepherd are not easily perceived. Our cultural experiences have not cultivated for us a sense of how a shepherd would lead you through layers of bureaucracy to file unemployment claims and go about finding a job, helping you change your career, after company downsizing. We find it hard to intuit how a shepherd would navigate the halls of a hospital, watch as loved ones are wheeled into a vast medical complex, placed in isolation, and cared for apart from the touch of a spouse’s hand. The shepherd is a distant figure to us. His ways are virtually unknown.
And that is the beauty of John’s text. Coming to us now, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, as our country still looks so strange and we are navigating uncharted territory, John asks us to meditate on something just as strange and mysterious to us. On Jesus… as our shepherd.
Note how when Jesus reveals Himself as a shepherd, He does so in a dangerous world. Jesus opens the eyes of His disciples to how dangerous their world truly is. He calls attention to the false shepherds and the hired hands, to the thieves and the robbers, not to mention the wolves which surround them. It is during danger that Jesus chooses to reveal Himself as a shepherd: Our shepherd. The One who came that we, “May have life and have it abundantly” (10:10).
Into a dangerous world, where strangers climb into sheepfolds and hired hands run away, the true Shepherd comes. And the beauty of His coming is that the Shepherd calls to His sheep and He knows them by name. Even when we do not know a thing about shepherds, Jesus still calls to us in a voice we recognize. He gathers us together and leads us in His way. The one thing that saves us is not what we know about shepherds but that our Shepherd knows us. “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3).
And the beauty of His coming is that the Shepherd calls to His sheep and He knows them by name.
For Jesus, this world of thieves and false shepherds was not imaginary. It was real. He was betrayed by a thief, crucified under the rule of false shepherds and buried in a tomb. But He rose from the dead to assure us that He is the Gate, the Door, and the true Shepherd who leads us to everlasting life.
Right now, we are more aware than ever that we do not know what lies in store for us. Last Christmas, no one would have imagined our life would be the way it is now. We prayerfully deliberate and carefully navigate how to move forward. But we have one thing which will never change. We have a shepherd who knows us by name and who promises to speak to us in all of life’s situations.
Jesus knows the agony of suffering. He endured the loneliness of death. So, He knows how to speak to those who are suffering. He walked the twisted, confusing roads and lived through the choices that confound. So, He knows how to lead those who have lost their way. He is present today. He enters this strange landscape with a familiar voice, with promises that endure. He will not leave you alone. He comes to you, calls you, and leads you in His way.
What matters today is not whether you know about shepherds. What matters is how there is a shepherd who knows you: Jesus. He has come for you. He speaks to you… now. In the Word that is read, the hymns that are sung, and the sermon that is preached and pondered, the Lord your Shepherd speaks. He is assuring you that God has a will and a way in this world. It is the way of Christ, God’s love and righteousness for you.
Though you feel you are far away from the world of the shepherd, there is no place in this world where the Shepherd is not close to you. He is close enough that He can speak, and you can hear Him. Closer still, so close that He takes your hand and leads you in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 10:1-10.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 10:1-10.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 10:1-10.