Preached at Prince of Peace, Wasaga Beach, and St. Luke’s, Creemore, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.  Sunday, April 30, 2023.  

Readings – Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10 



4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  (Jn 10.4)


This Sunday in the life of the church is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because our lectionary readings all invite us to think of the shepherd as an image for Christ.    Jesus is the one who knows us, leads us, protects us, and dies for us, so the shepherd is a perfect way to think of our relationship to Jesus.   And, if Jesus is our shepherd, then we of course have to think of ourselves as sheep!


Shepherds have not always had an idealized image in the ancient world.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle thought shepherds were a lazy and idle bunch, because all they had to do was lead tame animals to a place where there was good grass, and the sheep would look after themselves. 


Fortunately for us, the ancient Hebrews, our spiritual ancestors, knew better.   Their most revered king, David, was of course a shepherd before he became a king.  We all remember the story of how he defeated the monstrous warrior Goliath with a simple sling and stone, the weapon that a poor shepherd would use to defend their flock from predators.   


As we also know, sheep, those most helpless animals, need protection from wolves and human thieves.     In the ancient world, kings were the worst predators, which is why the prophet Samuel tried to keep the Hebrews from wanting to set up kings like other nations.  Samuel warned them that kings would devour the people’s wealth in taxes, would take their sons for the army and their daughters as serving girls.    The Israelites did not listen and chose Saul as their king, as we also know, that did not end well.


David was special because he was a shepherd first and a king second, as a king he protected his people rather than exploited them.    David’s role as a shepherd king explains why it was so important for Jesus to be descended from the house of David via Joseph.   Where as other kings lorded it over their people and preyed upon them, Jesus would be the shepherd Messiah who saves his people and protects them, as we see clearly in John’s gospel.


Today’s gospel reading is the tail end of a long debate between Jesus and his opponents, the Pharisees, about the healing of the blind man on the sabbath.   The blind man was one of Jesus’ flock; Jesus  cures him (the blind man hears Jesus’ voice before he sees him) and when he has been thrown out of the synagogue by the Pharisees, Jesus seeks him out as a shepherd finds the lost sheep.  


This is what the good shepherd does.  He cares for the sheep, he seeks out the lost ones, and he places himself between the sheep and their enemies – in this case, the Pharisees – and he will pay with his life for this.   Psalm 23 takes on an extra layer of meaning if we understand it as describing what happens in John 9, and in our own lives.


We are Christ’s sheep.  We learn his voice from bible stories that we hear as children, and then as adults all through our faith lives.  We learn to follow Jesus in the good days of our lives and to trust him in the bad and sad days.   He is our shepherd, he watches over us and cares for us.  We need Christ our shepherd because, contrary to our society’s worship of autonomy and self-sufficiency, we know that we are helpless.


Let me finish by telling you a story about one of Jesus’ most helpless sheep.   Marion Fenwick was a longtime member of All Saints.   She was a small lady, not quite five feet tall, and she was 86 when she died at in September 2019.    


She died of complications from a broken hip after a young man on a bicycle knocked her down while stealing her purse.   Passers by heard her calling for help.  The young man on the bike did not stop and later claimed he was unaware that she was hurt.  Marion Fenwick knew Jesus and he knew her.  He heard her calls and took her home.    Marion is safe and in the Good Shepherd’s care.  


I mention Marion because last week her attacker was in court for his sentencing hearing.   He has pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death  and in the courtroom he asked forgiveness of Marion’s family.   He will receive his sentence next month.  It could be as long as eight years, less the three he’s already served in detention.


Jesus contrasted himself as the  Good Shepherd with “The thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn 10.10).   It’s tempting to see the young man who inadvertently killed Marion in this life.   It’s tempting to want them to lock him up and throw away the key.    It’s tempting to let our instinctual desire for vengeance to rule our hearts.


I wonder though if there’s another way to see the young man who knocked Marion down and thus hastened his death.  At the time of the attack he suffered with addiction and stole her purse to fuel his drug habit.  He’s had three years in prison to consider whether Marion’s life was worth forty dollars and some lottery tickets.   He’s had three years to wonder what the rest of his life is going to look like.


In the courtroom, he asked Marion’s family for forgiveness.  I wonder if anyone’s suggested that he ask Jesus for forgiveness?  Were he to ask Jesus for mercy, would we doubt that Jesus would grant it?   Surely we can imagine that God’s grace would show this young man ways to turn his life around?    Perhaps Jesus might even ask All Saints, as Marion’s church, to find ways to reach out to her attacker and help him repent and rebuild his life, even have the abundant life that he promises to his followers?


We shouldn’t be surprised if Jesus were to lead us in these directions.    After all, shepherds love sheep, white ones and black ones, and shepherds find lost sheep and bring them home.  And Jesus is, after all, our Good Shepherd.  May we listen to our shepherd, follow him, and trust him, now and at the hour of our deaths.  Amen.