Fourth Sunday of Easter

by Crossings

Follow The Leader
Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:11-18
analysis by Steven Kuhl


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


DIAGNOSIS: Hired-handed, Hopeless

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Self-preservation, Self-improvement
This text is written to the Christian community in which John lived and, as John sees it, that community was in trouble. It was not the community of love it was called to be (15:1-17). People were not dedicated to one another with heart and soul, mind and strength. Instead, they were dedicated to self-preservation through self-improvement thinking this was the ethos of God’s fold. When the going got tough they deserted one another like the “hired hand” in our text (10:12). What resulted was the demise of community: a people more interested in making comparisons than giving acceptance, a people more dedicated to competition and self-preservation through self-improvement than to mutual care (13:12-17).

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Tuned in to the wrong “voice”
According to John’s Jesus, the ethos just described is a reflection of the “voice” to which the people are listening. They have tuned out the voice of the good shepherd and tuned in the voice of another, the voice of Moses and the law. To be “tuned in,” in this case, means to be captivated by the voice, to take it to heart, in John’s language, to believe in it religiously. Note how religious, pious, godly, and biblical the “other voice” is. For the people of Jesus’ time that voice had the authority of the synagogue behind it (9:28). For John’s time, it seems to have been more complicated. The Church already had an existence — and leaders — separate from the synagogue. However, when confronted by the traditional, Mosaic alternative to the good shepherd (the “thieves” or “wolves” of the synagogue and surrounding culture) — these leaders acted like “hirelings” and did not protect or suffer for the sheep with the proclamation of the gospel, the “voice of the good shepherd.” Because the voice of the good shepherd was systematically being silenced, so was the people’s faith in him.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: “Scattered”/Destruction of the Flock/No Salvation
The end result in all this is that people receive only that which they “tune in” (read: believe). They get Moses, God’s law, and the ultimate destruction it brings to sinners. The flock is thus scattered, like the people at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), leaving no flock at all. Where there is no voice of the good shepherd there is no gathering of the flock, no community, only an aimless wandering. Whoever is not tuned into the voice of the good shepherd, Jesus says, does not belong to the flock (10:26). And where there is no flock gathered, no voice heard, there is no feeding, no protection, no “abundant life,” no salvation (10:9-10, 26). The old motto “there is no salvation outside the Church” is what John’s Jesus seems to be driving at, if by “Church” we do not mean a mere institution, but the “flock of God,” i.e. all believers in Christ.

PROGNOSIS: Shepherded, Saved

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Good Shepherding
The solution to all this is found in the fact that in the person of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd came among his scattered sheep, once and for all, to gather them. What characterizes his shepherding as “good” is that he is not intimidated by the Mosaic alternative — even to their charges of “blasphemy” and threats of “stoning” (10:31-33) — but is willing (10:18) to lay down his life for his sheep (10:11, 15, 17, 18). The cross, which his opponents thought would be the instrument of his silencing, was actually his megaphone. It is the means whereby his own come to know him loud and clear as their shepherd, and come to know him as love. What’s more, in his resurrection they know him as the One who is “loved by the Father” (10:17) and that his act of “laying down his life for the sheep” was not merely his idea but the will of the Father. With the Father’s backing he has real authority — real power! — to lay down and take up his life (10:18) and to give it in great abundance to his sheep (10:10).

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Knowing and Following
The identifying marks of the good shepherd (his cross and resurrection) are so unique and captivating that any true sheep simply cannot mistake him for another (10:14). Like love itself, the sheep know him when they hear him. But what’s more, to know him is to follow him (10:27). That captivating is this shepherd, that enlivening is the abundant life he gives — already! In a world in which every one wants to be the leader, wants to be top dog, Christians have a different instinct ingrained in them: Jesus calls it faith. The sheep know their shepherd to be a master servant (13:12-20) and knowing that, have internalized the value of servanthood, of following, for themselves. Following is not an act of blind, dumb obedience. Good followers are knowledgeable. They know exactly what they are following. That’s what makes them so good at following. This does not mean that there are not “leaders” in the Church. There are. But such leaders are sub-shepherds, master followers, appointed by the Shepherd to serve on his behalf (21:15-19). Church leaders lead by following Christ and calling others to do the same. Church leaders are the “voice of the good shepherd” in the midst of the flock and are known by the same identifying marks by which the Christ is known: their willingness to lay down their life for his sheep, their proclamation of the way of the cross as the way to abundant living (21:19).

Step 6-Final Prognosis: Gathered as a Community of Care One for Another
Such faith in Christ and the values of following and servanthood that he instills naturally lead to community. Following Jesus is, thus, not a private affair, but an affair of the fold. The churching of the sheep, the gathering of the fold as a community of care, is all part of the abundant life he gives. In the midst of the fold we receive his feeding, his protection, his care and his life. In the fold, there is no competition, but only mutual care and “friendship” (15:13). In the fold, the command and desire of Christ (that we ” love one another as he has loved us”) becomes a reality.

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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