“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
“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.”
Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” John 9:39-41, 10:1-21 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This past Sunday, we heard the first of the two-part episode of Jesus’ healing the blind man in the temple on the Sabbath. On Sunday, we were witness to the first six scenes. In the opening scene, we watched as Jesus took the dust of the earth, spat in it, made mud, and rubbed it on the man’s eyes. He then sent him to wash and, when he did, the man could see for the first time in his life. In the next few scenes, we saw the effect of this healing--the Jewish leaders questioning his parents and then the blind man himself, demanding to know who had healed him. We witnessed the fear of his parents--a fear grounded in the unspoken rule that if they named Jesus as the healer they would be cast out of the synagogue and away from their entire community, losing their security and entire support system. We heard the blind man, when confronted by the Jewish leadership, confess Jesus as the healer, proclaim his divinity, and then, as expected, be cast out of the synagogue. Once again on the edge of society. Our episode on Sunday ended with Jesus finding the man, sight restored, who confessed his faith in Jesus, the Word made flesh standing right there in front of him.
As the second and final part of the episode opens tonight, Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders--”I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” The Pharisees respond, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
We, these 2,000 years later don’t have the benefit of hearing the inflection voices. Were they asking sincerely, perhaps questioning their own level of sight and understanding? Or was their question asked sarcastically, blind to their own ignorance and unwillingness to believe? Jesus’ response to them suggests the latter--”If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
Jesus then moves into a discourse--a speech--that we commonly know as the “Good Shepherd” discourse. We’ve heard this many times before, haven’t we? “The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep...the sheep listen to his voice...I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus proclaims. “I came so that they could have life--indeed, so that they could have life abundantly,” or as the Common English Bible translates it, “so that they could live life to the fullest.”
Have any of you ever been a shepherd? Or worked with sheep? A colleague of mine recently shared a video of Christopher Lange, a sheep farmer in Norway. The video, which was filmed by his friend Oyvind Kleiveland, was intended to test the question of whether sheep only obey their master’s voice. As it plays, we see several people attempt to call the sheep home, finishing with the shepherd, Mr. Lange, himself. Let’s watch.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in Lent. It is the day in which we are reminded of our own mortality. Of the darkness of our existence apart from God. The blind man was also reminded of his own mortality. Of the darkness of his existence. He was living it in his daily reality, begging for sustenance, completely dependent upon others for his life. His was a dark, mortal, finite existence without God.
Jesus broke into his darkness. And using the very dust and ashes that were the symbol of his mortality, restored his sight and with it, the ability to live life abundantly. To live life to the fullest. And, then, when he was cast out of the synagogue, Jesus sought him out again. Just as the shepherd in tonight’s video called his sheep, Jesus called the blind man by name, bringing him into intimate relationship. With Jesus, his Good Shepherd.
On this day, our Good Shepherd calls us, too, just like the blind man. Our Shepherd calls us out of our own blindness with a voice we know. Calls us back into intimate relationship with him. Calls us into a deeper place, a place of sustenance, a place of community. A place of abundant life--where we might live life to the fullest. And, then, takes the dust of our own mortality and marks us with the cross. With his cross.
Sight. Intimate relationship. Sustenance. Community. Abundant life. These are all what God desires for us and what God promises to us as we journey through this Lenten season. May we continue to hear our shepherd’s call so that we might, along with the blind man, always proclaim, “Lord, I believe.”
God grant it. Amen.
Preached on , February 14, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Psalm 23; John 9:39-41, 10:1-21