Misericordias Domini (Good Shepherd)
April 22, 2012 A+D – modified, re-used midweek 2016
St. John 10:11-18
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You might as well learn a Greek word today. The word here translated “good” is word kalos. Jesus is the Kalos Shepherd. It can be translated as “good” but that is pretty vague and might mislead us.
There is a romantic notion of the Good Shepherd that thinks of the Good Shepherd the way those single moms think of the dirt bags. It thinks that the goodness of the Shepherd abides in His affection for the sheep. So a good dad is a dad who likes the fun parts of being a dad and a good shepherd is a shepherd who likes to pet and cuddle sheep for his own amusement. He is good at deriving pleasure from others.
Now, in fairness, that idea about God is not completely out of place in the New Testament. The Lord does, in fact, hold you in deep affection. He does love you as a Father loves His children. He does derive pleasure from you. But He also loves you as a Husband loves His wife. He loves you as a colleague and a comrade. His bond and love for you embraces all the ways humans love one another, but more purely, without self-interest or jealousy or fear.
So there is nothing wrong with thinking of Jesus as the kindly, gentle lover of Sheep. Fine. But as correct as that sentiment might be, it just isn’t what these passages are about. He isn’t saying “I am the gentle lover of sheep.” He is saying “I am the kalos Shepherd.”
That means that He is the Right Shepherd, the Fitting, the Uniquely qualified and best Shepherd for sinners. He is, in fact, the only Shepherd who can actually bear this title. David and his sons were only types, shadows of the gracious rule of the Kalos Shepherd. So also, our pastors are but echoes of the True Shepherd. That is what kalos means. It means good, right, fitting. It means true, beautiful, and accurate. It means competent, good for you, and worthy of praise.
Our Lord’s primary purpose in this proclamation is to deny the claims of all other shepherds. He denies the claim of the many shepherd gods and kings of the Greeks and other pagans and, at the same time, he denies the claim of the Pharisees, Priests, and Essenes. If you are a shepherd, whether you are King David or Pastor Jones, you must be an undershepherd, a shepherd who shepherds not his own sheep but who is himself a sheep of the Kalos Shepherd and whose Office is to proclaim that Kalos Shepherd as the receiver and savior of sinners.
The Lord can make this claim, that He is the Kalos Shepherd, because He is good in the sense of morality. He is morally perfect, without sin. But His claim comes not from morality, but from faithful obedience and Sacrifice. The Good Shepherd, the Kalos Shepherd is the True Shepherd because He gives His life for the flock. He overcomes the wolf by filling the wolf’s mouth with His own Body and thus saves the sheep from being lost. He is One with the Father so His people, His sheep, bought with His own Blood, become one with the Father: one flock, one shepherd. He is King Messiah of shepherding love.
The great hope and expectation of the rabbis who taught before Christ was that the Messiah would unite all the Jews of Palestine, all the Jews of the diaspora, and all the Gentiles into one flock. They taught that King Messiah would destroy the Temple and usher in a new age, a new law and covenant, and there would be no separation of Jew and Gentile. This, in large part, is why the rulers of the Jews fear Jesus. They weren’t so afraid that He was a fraud. They were afraid that He was the Messiah, and they didn’t want a Messiah, they didn’t want the Gentiles or the end of the Temple.
Our Lord, then, is claiming that by sacrifice, He, the Kalos Shepherd, will reconcile sinners to the Father and make one flock. This is the character of the True and Noble Shepherd, Beautifully fit for His purpose, competent, good, worthy of praise. All that is confessed in the term kalos.
Again, the goodness of Our Shepherd is not in His affection, but in His sacrifice. And if His affection is the cause of His sacrifice, then note this: it is not His affection for us, but His affection for His Father.
That is a tough lesson when you’ve been raised on the corn syrup theology of the gentle Lover of the Sheep, I am sorry, but it has its rewards. In the first place, it is Biblical. It comes out of Our Lord’s own description of His mission and His motives and not from some mewling attempt to be winsome or nice. Secondly, it takes the focus off of us and places it where it belongs: on Him. He lays down His life. He takes it up again. His Father loves Him because of it. We are but the spoils of war, the plunder rendered to the Son by a grateful and affectionate Father. We are the sheep of a different fold, brought in without pedigree or works, spared from the hired hands.
We have heard His Voice in His Word as given by the Spirit. We have heard Him call our names in Holy Baptism and wrap them in His own Name. We have heard His promise and in Him we know also His Father. The charge He was given, to save us, He has fulfilled. He is good. He is kalos. And He is risen.
Alleluia. He is risen!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.