By this all shall know that you are my disciples: That you type “Amen” under religious FaceBook updates. — #thingsJesusneversaid.
On the pulpit of my congregation sits a large bible that is always comfortably opened to somewhere in the middle so notes do not slip off. At least that is what it seems like. In reality, I have it open to a particular chapter: Jeremiah 23.
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
Since I am a pastor, which is a Latin version of shepherd, the reasons might just be obvious. Those who would be shepherds — ordained or by default like parents — of faith in others ought to probably read Jeremiah a few times a year along with John chapters 9 and 10. For those interested, chapter 10 also explains why Jesus is nowhere close to Bethany when Lazarus dies and why Thomas believes their return to Bethany will spell their death.
The great and beloved Good Shepherd passage from John 10 is commentary on what happens in chapter 9 and Jesus’ words eventually cause the opposition to pick up rocks to stone him. The chapter is not about shepherds. Deep breath . . I know . . hard to stomach. Yes, having a local HHHH kid bring in their fair animal is as much an act of missing the point of the chapter as it is bad for the carpet. So does talking about the vocational history of 1st century agricultural laborers and stained glass pictures of Jesus holding a lamb just barely pass but on the basis of Luke 15.
The shepherds in question are really leaders of the people. Jeremiah 23 makes this clear as does Ezekiel 34. The rulers, kings and priest and religious experts, are loosely referred to as shepherds in the Old Testament. That tradition might go back to David who is the shepherd turned king. Visions of the messiah include David at least in heritage. Messiah is to be a king like David — only better as in, without the Bathsheba episode — and a priest. It is no surprise then that the first question asked of Jesus after the Good Shepherd speech is: Are you the Messiah? (10:24)
Jesus’ answer to that question really is: You could know that answer yourself if you where one of mine and if you just can’t make it out then at least consider the evidence of the work I do and ask yourself if mine are not the works of the God of Israel. That answer is not well received.
The “mine” are those who, with Thomas and the man born blind, fall at his feet and say: “My Lord and my God,” in one way or another. The others are “blind,” (9:39) even though some claim to “see,” and by that claim, they are guilty. Woe to those shepherds who have scattered the flock and who have put out of the flock the blind man for the offense of having been healed.
Woe. What a great word. What are we to gather from this text? Not all of us are pastors or spiritual directors. Yet, many of us are parents and elders in the faith in some form. We are, however, not Jesus. We must let him be the Shepherd, the king and hoped for Messiah.
These things are written that you may believe, writes John in chapter 20. Beyond that, think about what Jesus has commanded you according to John? His commandment is that we love one another. As the epistle of John says: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God,” and again: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
The problem in the fact finding mission of the Pharisees of chapter 9 is that it did not show even a shred of love. They scatter the flock because they do not love the flock. They do not rejoice with a blind man regaining his sight. They do not celebrate that one has been restored to full life. It matters not if the blindness had been a lie. He is not blind or no longer blind. One way or another, a change for the better, a restoration of life has taken place. A lost one has been brought back to life. Love celebrates.
What then is the opposite that permits the Pharisees to run breathlessly hither and yon at the news that the man can see? Leviticus 19 already commands that one love neighbor as oneself. Surely they knew this. 1 John would say that perfect Love casts out fear. Not any fear though. No, the fear that is spoken of is fear of judgement. For some reason, the healing of the blind man has stirred that fear. Did he sin or his parents? “Neither,” said Jesus. Maybe there is the problem. It is so much easier to think that there sits the sinner and I am not him. There but for the good favor of God sit I. But will you love him? Will you love Thomas who tells you that you are lying about the resurrection? (20:25)
We are all the Lord’s sheep. Will we love one another as the flock that he tends? For the sake of the Lord who loves his sheep? Even the blind ones?