Psalm 23 • John 10:1-10 • Acts 2:42-47 • 1 Peter 2:19-25
This coming Sunday, is commonly referred to as ‘Christ the Good Shepherd’ Sunday. It is part of the Easter narrative detailing the events following the resurrection up through the accession. The passages this week point us to an understanding of Jesus as our shepherd.
We recently visited Psalm 23 during the Lenten season in addition to now, in the Easter season, as it addresses the leadership, provision, and abundance of Jesus as the shepherd. It also is a passage that paints a realistic picture of the world in which we live as well as the fact that we are often feeble human beings who make wrong choices and have to live with the natural consequences. While we often think of the ‘evil’ in verse 4 as being a force against us, it is also, and even more so, a force of guilt and shame from within us. The actions of disobedience, of sin, that haunt us and threaten to force us off the path on which the shepherd leads us.
Notice the use of ‘table’, abundance (‘cup overflows’), and ‘dwell’, as you read and consider this Psalm 23.
When reading this passage, is necessary to realize that there is actually no break between chapter nine and chapter ten, it is all the same discussion, story, and moment. Jesus had healed the blind man which had set off a firestorm defense from the the religious establishment leadership. It is an interesting read as the healed man, followed by his parents, are put in the risky position of having to explain what happened, and by whom the healing took place, all without making the accusing leaders angry and vengeful.
It is also important to understand the political culture of the time in seeking to understand the message from Jesus in our chapter ten passage. In the Roman society, and in the Greek society prior to that, the emperor is considered the ruler, ruling by power and might. He seeks to keep a people under control by threats and, sometimes favors. It was a time of widespread hunger and scarcity of other vital resources. Jesus counters this understanding of leadership in painting himself as a humble but dedicated shepherd, sincerely concerned with the welfare of the people rather than control. The metaphor of ‘sheep’, a ‘gate’, an ‘abundant pasture’, a ‘recognized voice’, ‘thieves and bandits’, and a ‘sacrificial’ shepherd (see verse eleven) is in direct opposition to the political leadership system of the day.
One other note before you read, in verse six, we see that the listeners (consisting primarily of Jesus’ followers) did not understand the meaning of the story about sheep. Remember, his disciples, the primary group that followed with and learned from Jesus, were mostly fishermen, a story about sheep was possibly a foreign concept for them. While this was the best way to express the point that Jesus was seeking to make, a metaphor that directly challenged the common manner of thought, Jesus went on to provide an explanation to these listeners.
It would be helpful to read chapter nine, before reading chapter ten, to set you mind on the context, and then, in chapter ten, read on at least through verse eleven. Also, when you read, let your understanding go beyond, and maybe through, the things you have always heard preached and taught about this passage – it might be that the Holy Spirit seeks to enlarge your understanding of the message given.
Our Acts passage this week takes place after the resurrection, after the accession, and after Pentecost. While we don’t see a reference to Jesus referred to as a shepherd, we do see, however, the role of shepherding, provision, generosity, goodwill, and devotion clearly present. This is the beginning of the church, the natural and sincere response of the people who had begun a relationship with God during the act of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (when the Spirit descended). It is the beginning of the creation of community based on the shepherding of Christ among the people.
An interesting correlation of this community, as compared to the community depicted in the John passage – there, were saw a community that had excluded a man due to his disability, blindness, then rejected him even further because he was healed by Jesus Christ. In this Acts passage, we see an inclusive community providing, and looking out, for each other. Many in this community were the travelers who had been in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost – most of whom were probably from the Galilee area north of Jerusalem. They were now outsiders in Jerusalem, their livelihood was gone, insecure, and at constant risk – followers of the Jesus who had recently been crucified. They were not welcome, except within the community of Jesus’ followers – in the church. This was a devoted community who wanted to understand Jesus more and more, while also wanting to be hospitable, caring, and generous, not just in their own community, but to all peoples.
Consider the trying and strange times in which these new followers of Jesus created community and compare it with our own trying and strange times and how we have created and continued in community.
1 Peter 2:19-25
We have been looking at the context of I Peter for the past couple of weeks and are probably comfortable in our understanding – the followers of Christ are a small minority in their communities and are therefore rejected outcasts, and Peter has instructed them to remain faithful while still being respectful to their attackers. In this passage we see Peter addressing the suffering these Christians are experiencing. It is essential to note that this suffering is directly a result of their belief in Jesus – it is probably a persecution by intense, and very real, ostracism. In this teaching, Peter, reminds them that is a suffering to be expected and there is no place for pride, vengeance, blame, or accusations in the midst of their pain. They are to respond with love.
Possibly the best example we have that compares with the teaching of Peter is the non-violent activism during the civil rights period. People stood up for their belief but did so in a non-reactionary manner, accepting the reactions of the crowds. This, of course, was first learned by the African American leaders as they watched the activism of Ghandi in India.