St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Easter 4, April 21


The Good Shepherd, Easter 4 (B) – April 21, 2024

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and we sure are hearing a lot about shepherds in our readings. Are you feeling a bit sheepish? There are 118 references to shepherds in the Bible, 23 of them are in the New Testament. Jesus is our good shepherd, we are sheep, and watch out for the bad shepherds. I guess I can sit down now, having encapsulated our lessons so well.

In our Gospel today, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter. As the good shepherd, he is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Seen in this post Easter light, it seems obvious that Jesus is talking about dying for us on the cross, but is what he means?

Let’s look at this: when we picture Jesus as a shepherd, we probably imagine a nice, peaceful Jesus in a white robe, carrying a sleepy, quiet lamb on his shoulders. But I wonder about that. Sheep are gentle creatures who scare easily, and have bad depth perception, (which is why they need to be led through any gates). They may bleat sweetly much of the time but positively SCREAM when they’re unhappy about being caught.

So, I bet that little lost sheep carried by Jesus is wriggling, yelling, and trying to get free. How would we act if we were the rescued sheep? The Rev. Jazzy Bostock writes: “Maybe if we’re honest with ourselves, we might find that closer to our own experiences too. Maybe you like to believe that when Jesus carries you, you are well-behaved and soft, that you know God knows better than you do, and you’re willing to let go of control and allow God to work. In reality though, perhaps all of us bleat and wriggle a whole lot, finding it hard to give up control.

Though we know Jesus is the good shepherd, it can still be hard for us to fully trust him.  All the trite little phrases – “Let go and let God” or “Jesus take the wheel” might be easy to say but they are not easy to do.”

Now, Jesus points out that not all shepherds are good. Our Jewish Lord well knew what the ancient scriptures say about bad shepherds.  Listen to some of Ezekial 34 when he speaks to bad shepherds:  “…Terrible trouble will come to you shepherds of Israel who only think about yourselves. Shepherds should take care of the sheep and feed them.  You drink their milk, and you use their wool to make clothes for yourselves. You kill the best animals to eat. But you do not take care of the sheep! You have not helped the weak sheep to be strong. You have not made the sick sheep well. Nor have you covered their wounds. You have not looked for lost sheep and brought them back.”

We might look to our own leaders today – when Jesus talks about the hired shepherd, he knows that this guy is only in it for the money, unlike the shepherd who has been at it since childhood and genuinely loves the sheep.  Do we seek a shepherd who cares for the weak, the lost and the needy or one who only enriches himself at the expense of the sheep? Am I being subtle here?

Now let’s get back to Jesus laying down his life. In 1John, John writes “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Does John mean that we should be prepared to die for each other? I love you all but don’t know if I’d die for you! Are there other ways of laying down one’s life?

Yes. When we put the needs of others above our own, when we say yes to service in some way, when we put ourselves aside, we are figuratively laying down our lives. We lay down our lives when we finally give up the illusion of control, when we stop whining and bleating, and when we try to relax, trusting that God will take us to a good, green pasture, trusting that God will lead us beside still waters.

I’ve been struggling a lot with anxiety, something I’ve dealt with my whole life. I’m working diligently, trying to face challenges with excitement instead of anxiety. A big part of this work is centered on praying to adjust my outlook, to find the joy in my days, and to trust that most of the time, things work out just fine. I need to remember to trust God every day.

Acting like a sheep is hard. It means that we acknowledge that we need help, we need a shepherd to lead us, we need to practice deep humility in the face of the divine. But Jesus teaches us, through his actions, he helps us do this. As the good shepherd, he is right here with us, he leads us to lay down beside still waters, walks beside us through our dark times, then follows us with goodness and mercy. Our Lord surrounds us and protects us.

Jesus is the good shepherd; we are the sheep. We lay down our lives when we live into that relationship, when we trust that our shepherd sees things we do not, and knows things we do not, and has foresight that we do not. Perhaps today, we are invited to lay down those burdens we’ve been carrying, to lay down our lives and remember that Jesus is our shepherd, and we are just sheep.

So, let’s go back to the image of Jesus carrying that little lamb and replace it with you. This morning, let yourself be assured that Jesus is carrying us – carrying you – on his shoulders. May that assurance be a blessing. Amen.