Sermon by Rev. Lusmarina Campos Garcia
Based on John 10:11-18
29 April 2012
The Gospel of John was written or collected from the memories and witness of John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:23). Jesus and John were close friends, and their proximity becomes evident in occasions such as the Last Supper, when John reclines close to Jesus and learns from Jesus about the betrayer; or the moment at the cross, when Jesus trusts his mother to John’s care (19:26-27). John is the first disciple to run to the tomb after the women announced Jesus’ resurrection and is the first to recognize Jesus in the person of the unknown, standing at the shore of the Lake. It is within this perspective of closeness, friendship and love, that the Gospel of John brings us the figure of the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd story summarizes John’s understanding of God in Jesus and delineates John’s soteriology, his understanding of salvation, in this Gospel. It has the following structure: the knowledge of the father and the love for the sheep leads the son to lay down his life voluntarily (10,15-17), in order to give abundant life to the sheep (10,10) so they can become one flock (10,16).
In the Synoptic gospels God is compared to the pastor who rejoices in finding the lost sheep. Here Jesus proclaims himself the Good Shepherd. Jesus says: I am the Good Shepherd. The formula “I am” (in Greek: ego eime) is a revelation formula that evokes Jesus awareness about his nature and mission.
To be the Good Shepherd is to be committed to the life of the sheep, to enter into relationship with them and to know them so closely that it means being ready to surrender his own life. Here, the Salvationist character of this text becomes clear. “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus death marks his profoundest identification with the human condition at its most critical moment: the moment of dying. Death is the point where human reality faces its worst uncertainty and chaos. It is the “suspension point” where “being” is transformed into “not being” and what was once, is no more. It is the moment without language, without speech, for there is no human expression capable of conveying the reality of dying. It is the time of inevitable silence. Jesus reaches this point in order to encounter us in our furthest borderline and in order to accomplish his father’s order -- the order of giving life and resuming it. The death of Jesus brings about salvation for the human condition and for the whole of creation. Jesus’ power does not come from his glory, but from his capacity to die. Here we are confronted with the language of contradiction (paradox). In other words, what makes sense for God doesn’t make sense for us. God reveals herself in veiling (this is what Luther called “Absconditus God”); God presents her wisdom as folly, her strength resides in weakness, her glory can only be seen in humility and her life is only full in death. 1 Corinthians 1,18 asserts: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
However, the power that Jesus has to die is the same that he has to resurrect. Resurrection is the reverse of death and the cross. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t only redeem death itself but all processes of dying. And that brings about life which is abundant, for those who believe (John 10,10). Thus, to talk about a theology of the cross (in usus passionis), is to talk always about the other side -- the resurrection and its practices.
Practices of resurrection consist in experiencing, through faith, that all reality is immersed in resurrection. It is not about denying the cross; it is about being aware that every cross carries the germ of the resurrection. To practice resurrection is to understand that suffering, ambiguity and life scars are embraced and reshaped by the power of love – a love capable of dying and living again. A love capable of proclaiming oneself a Good Shepherd, not a hired hand.
The distinction between the Good Shepherd and the Hired Hand is that:
The Good Shepherd stays, faces the danger and doesn’t abandon the sheep in the hardest time. The hired hand runs away.
To the hired hand, the sheep are the means through which to obtain a salary. To the good shepherd the sheep are the subject of his love.
The Good Shepherd knows his own and has with them an intimate relationship. The hired hand has a commercial and transitory relationship.
The Good Shepherd speaks to the sheep, for they know his voice. The hired hand says nothing.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the One who remains with us in times of transition, in times of uncertainties, in times of illness, in times of death and in times of resurrection. He remains with because he loves us. And his love is to be the model which we follow.
There is an apocryphal document that belongs to the end of the first century named “John’s Testament” and it seems it was recollected by Saint Jeronimus. The context is the Jerusalem Community that was a community formed in the apocalyptic environment of the first century.
John was the liturgist of the community, or so says tradition. And, as this tradition reminds John lived until old age. This document says that as John got older and older he became sick and weaker. As the time went by, the worship services were shorter and shorter and his sermons diminished until he said almost nothing. Visibly weak he came to say: “My little children, love each other”. That was all. But after some time, John recovered his strength and his health grew stronger again. But still the only thing he said to the whole gathered community was: “My little children, love each other”. So his disciples came to him and said: we thought that you did not say anything else because of your illness and debility, but now you are healthy and stronger and this is only what you say! Then, John answered to them: “This is what really matters”.
To have Jesus as our Good Shepherd is to have the certainty that the One who lives and dies for us and with us, keeps on carrying us sometimes or pushing us other times, but remains reminding us that there will always be resurrection for those who love.