The Good Shepherd
Abundant Life & Eternal Life | John 10:1-10
There’s a funny video online of a boy who helps a sheep that’s stuck in a ditch. The boy struggles to free the sheep, while somebody records it. The boy uses all his strength, pulls its leg, and eventually yanks the sheep out. The sheep shakes it off and runs away, galloping alongside the ditch. It seems to have immediately forgotten about the ditch, takes a big hop into the air, and falls right back in. I’m pretty sure the sheep ended up being fine, but I do think the video is a humorous metaphor for human life. Of how our Good Shepherd never ceases to pull us out of trouble, and how we all too often fall right back in.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s always the fourth Sunday of Easter and the lectionary always presents us with Psalm 23 and one of three sections from John 10, Jesus’ discourse on the Good Shepherd. It’s a special remember in the middle of the season of Easter that Christ is our shepherd and the lamb of God who lays down his life for his sheep.
One important thing to recognize about this Gospel reading is that it immediately follows John 9 which is the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. Bible commentators point out that we should read this text in light of that healing story. Because this is what Jesus is saying to him. The man who suffered his whole life not being able to see. The man whose blindness drove him to become a beggar. The man whose healing led to him being rejected by the elders because their disdain for Jesus. It is to this man that Jesus declares that he is a sheep of Jesus’ flock, and that Jesus himself is the Good Shepherd and the Gate for the sheep.
Jesus uses the symbol of thieves and bandits, whether literal or metaphorical ones, from whom he protects his sheep. It may be that Jesus is using this metaphor to refer to the authorities of his day, or that it’s a more general symbol for whatever troubles we encounter. Whatever it may be, Jesus assures us that no matter what troubles we encounter in life, he is our Good Shepherd and he is with us. He promises to guide us through the gate into life with abundant him.
Now just what is this abundant life for the sheep? Is it life in this world or life in the next? Or perhaps a combination of the two? At the end of the passage Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This phrase “abundant life” is important in John’s Gospel. It seems to refer to a life on earth spent with Jesus as your shepherd. It’s different from eternal life in heaven; abundant life is life on earth lived to its fullest. Earthly life is not just something to put up with until we die when we can experience the good life in heaven. No, Jesus came that we may experience abundant life here and now. Because we are his sheep, not just in the afterlife, but in this world too. We get to experience God’s love and peace and joy in the midst of this world as well. Jesus came to guide humanity to its fullest potential, so that all may experience the abundant life God intends this life to be.
Now the word abundant shouldn’t be confused with financial abundance or material abundance. Abundant life certainly includes having our survival needs met, but it’s not about material wealth. It’s about a life of joy, peace, and love. A life aligned with the divine. A life where Christ dwells in you and lives through you. A life connected to the God who is love.
And the abundant life he brings to his sheep is what we are called to share with others. We are the sheep of Christ’s flock, given abundant life, and called to share abundant life with others. We are called to share out of our resources and wealth and out of our time and energy to help all people have their needs met, to have relative comfort and to have the dignity of a decent life. We are called to share our abundant life of joy, peace, and love with others—acting as Christ toward them. Doing so, we share the abundant life we have been so generously given by God with our neighbors.
Now in addition to abundant life, Jesus also spoke of eternal life. That is life after death, life in heaven with God. But it starts now! Jesus guides his sheep to both abundant life on earth and to eternal life with him in the hereafter. We’re in the season of Easter, and celebrating Christ’s victory of death is what it’s all about! Because of Christ’s death and resurrection we are promised eternal life with God. Because of Christ the Good Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep, we are brought into the fullness of life eternal with our God and Savior.
Both of these themes, abundant life and eternal life, are prominent in Psalm 23 which we read this morning as well. The psalm tells the story of a life lived with God as your shepherd. A life lived by a person who trusts God to guide them. Sometimes God provides life in all its abundance, and we find ourselves laying on green pastures and enjoying the walk by peaceful waters. At those times our souls are restored, and God leads us to devote ourselves to righteousness: to the caring for others and the hard work of helping all experience abundant life. At other times, life’s journey brings us through the dark valley, the dark nights of the soul, the times when we encounter grief, sadness, pain, and suffering. But even then, our Good Shepherd is with us, guiding us and supporting us when we can’t go it alone. And then when we come out of the dark valley, we might enjoy the beauty of a banquet and the overflowing of our cups. Finally, having experienced the goodness and mercy of God following us throughout life, we can rest assured that when this life ends, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This beautiful psalm describes the ups and downs of life, and gives us a glimpse of what abundant life looks like. And it also ends with a promise of eternal life with our loving God. Just like Jesus’ image of the sheep and the Good Shepherd, so does Psalm 23 highlight the wonder and joy of a life lived with God as our guide.
Of course we know that life won’t always be perfect. We’ll have trials and tribulations. We’ll encounter pain and suffering. We’ll sometimes enter into the valley of the shadow of death. But in those times, we know that Christ our Shepherd is with us. In the midst of our confusion and chaos, Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. In the midst of depression or anxiety, Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. In the midst of sickness or physical decline, Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. In the midst of unending violence and conflict in the world, Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. In the midst of all the troubles we encounter, Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd.
And our Good Shepherd offers us all abundant life and eternal life. He calls us by name and welcomes us to his sheepfold. Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd loves us, protects us, and grants us abundant and eternal life with him.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.