April 19, 2015 A+D
St. John 10:11-18
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In John 10, Our Lord invokes Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Lord, Himself, as our Shepherd, restoring the unity of the Church and rescuing the scattered sheep of different folds by bringing them to a single fold of paradise. He also invokes David’s most famous and beloved Psalm:
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
3He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23, KJV).
When Jesus proclaims, “I am the Good Shepherd” He is identifying Himself as YHWH, the Lord who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, who is David’s Shepherd and our Shepherd.
We shall not want.
Christ, our Good Shepherd, lacked everything so we want for nothing. It is of His goodness that He was rejected in Bethlehem and in His later years had no place to lay His head. It is of His goodness that He was hungry in the wilderness, thirsty in Samaria at a well and upon the cross, and that He was stripped naked on the cross. Above all the things He lacks and does without, preeminent is His lack of an escape route or a ram in the thicket or mercy. The jaws of the wolf that come to seize and scatter the flock are filled with Him. His Body and Soul are separated, seized and scattered. He dies, while we poor sheep and hirelings escape.
Out of that particular goodness, His lack, comes our abundance. His righteousness covers our iniquity. His innocence removes our guilt. His thirsting slakes our thirst, His hunger satisfies our hunger, and His death gives us life.
We shall want nothing. In Christ, we have a place to lay our head, a home and a bed. We have the Church, a family, a place where we belong. We have food, drink, and clothing, not just the physical realities of our bodily needs, but also the spiritual goodness that Christ provides for us in the Church. We are fed with His Body. We drink His Blood. We are clothed with His holiness. In Christ, we want for nothing.
He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters. He restores our souls and leads us in the paths of righteousness.
In the still, comforting waters of Holy Baptism, Our Good Shepherd, the prince of Peace, who laid down His life for ours, provides rest, safety, and health. He restores our souls. Once, in those still waters, He named us as His own. He took possession of us and drove off the demons that threatened us. Even now, He makes those waters a restoration. They well up within and define us. We are baptized. We belong to Jesus. He has bought us and won us. He has claimed us and put His Name upon us. Our souls are restored and we are set again upon the paths of righteousness.
Those paths of righteousness wind through the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of death weighs heavy upon timid sheep, but it is only a shadow. The Good Shepherd walked into the valley of death and He did not walk out again until death had swallowed Him and in that seeming victory been defeated. The Good Shepherd did not flee from the enemy. He stood our ground, for us, in our place, and He allowed the devil to do his worst to Him. He suffered all the accusations of our sins. He met all that Justice could demand. He fulfilled the Law. He was put to death in the valley of death, dead and buried, left for worms. But that death defeated and filled death. Death could take no more. Now it is only a shadow and a lie. Death swallowed a Man and found itself bursting with God, the creator, Life Himself. Three days later it gave up Our Lord never to kill a single sheep again. Jesus lives and no one who believes in Him ever dies.
So now we walk, in this shadowy place, and the shadow of death is on our backs and sides and sometimes in our eyes, and in our sheepish ways we know some fear. We are skittish, nervous, and sad. Let us not fear evil. Let us fear only God. And keep walking, down the paths of righteousness, through this vale of sorrow, for we are the baptized, death is only a shadow, and we are moving on in any case. We are headed home, to the one flock and one Shepherd of our souls. We know and follow His Voice. Our souls are restored. His rod and His staff, His Law and His Gospel, His cross, they comfort us.
And there in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, in the face of the evil that vainly threatened us and tried to scare us, the Good Shepherd prepares a table, a banquet and feast, for us. We are the baptized. He anoints our heads with oil. Our cups run over. The emblem of our enemy’s greed, that which He sought to kill and eat, the Lord’s very Body and Blood, risen and alive, are not eaten by demons and wolves, not devoured in a lustful violence, but are given, as food, to the sheep, to us. We eat and drink life at a prepared table. The Lord gives us His Life without losing anything, much the way we can love someone else and not be diminished.
The table is the marriage bed. There we sheep become the Bride. Christ enters into us. Our sins are forgiven, our faith is strengthened, and our joy is full. The Lord has prepared a table and there He knows us and we know Him and we are one.
But the journey is not yet complete. We are not yet home so goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives.
The goodness and mercy of the Good Shepherd chases us, pursues us, hounds us if He must, so that we stay on the paths of righteousness and make it to the blessed end of His promise. But more than a sheep dog, the goodness and mercy of the Good Shepherd follows us as a rearguard. Our sins leave a wake of danger behind us. Every time we sin we open ourselves to demonic attack. We place our faith in jeopardy. Yet the Good Shepherd is on every side, on the right and the left, before and behind, there is no sin He has not forgiven, there is no accusation He has not deflected, there is no hair He has not counted. He is guiding and protecting by forgiving and loving. It is His goodness and His mercy that follow us, that spare us, that keep us safe from every attack from every direction even those that come from within.
And we will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
Here is the ultimate promise, the last and highest of all graces: the perseverance of the saints. Here is the end and result of all the Sacraments, of the Good Shepherd’s goodness and mercy and sacrifice. Here is the point of all authority in heaven and earth: we will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. The Lord is our Shepherd. We shall not want.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.