Parish the Thought February 2018 by Dr. Dana Wright

I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)

The man was born blind. His family supported him as much they could, but the    burden was heavy. He would have to resort to begging. Every day his ignominious insignificance assaulted him in the face. Loser! Non-contributor! A drag on society! His religion added insult to his injury. The word from the synagogue consigned him to Godforsakenness. Doubly abandoned by God and by God’s people, his life added up to less than nothing—a minus sign! A statistical non-entity! Much like the ones who inhabit our streets today. Lazy! Dregs! Good for nothing—we owe them nothing. Wall them out. Wall them in. Expend nothing on them because that is what they are to us. Are they lost? No need to find them. Just brush them under the carpet.

 But a Stranger took notice. The man was not lost but found. He was a miracle of divine favor. Concocting a mud plaster with his own spittle, the Stranger rubbed on the man’s eyes with his own hands. “Go wash in the pool of Siloam,” he told the man. “Enjoy in the divine favor for a change!” The man obeyed the Stranger and, voila—sight restored! “Who is this man?” the people said. “We never paid much attention to him. He was just another statistic to us. But now he is here. He has something to say to us.” The man told them of the Stranger who had touched his eyes and restored his sight on the Sabbath.” Now the ears of the religious guardians perked up. They cared less that a man born blind had been healed. They were concerned only that the Stranger who touched the sinner had also broken the Sabbath. Sinner had infected sinner. The controversy intensified. The leaders interrogated the man’s parents, threatening to dis-fellowship them from the synagogue. And when the man born blind testified of the Stranger, those leaders cut him off as well. “Who are you to teach us.” And they drove him out. Then the Stranger came again to assure the man-born-blind-now healed of God’s favor (John 9:1–41).

After this episode, Jesus testified to himself: “I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). He intended his testimony to be understood as a judgment on the false shepherds who harassed and dis-fellowshipped the man born blind from the synagogue. In Jesus’ mind, these so-called guardians of the faith were heirs of the terrible leaders of Israel who had broken covenant with the people. These bad shepherds of Israel had, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day—

· Fed themselves not their flocks, bleeding the 99% to satiate the 1%.

· Made weak sheep weaker by taking away their social support system.

· Ignored the sick sheep and failed to attend to the injured sheep.

· Failed to concern themselves with those sheep slipping through the cracks.

· Treated the sheep condescendingly, consigning them to the margins.

· Failed to protect the sheep from wild predators (cf. Ez. 34:1–6).

In contrast to all bad shepherds and their heirs, Jesus reveals himself to be the “Good Shepherd”: I will set up one shepherd over [God’s people], and he shall feed them, even my servant David (Messiah) … and he shall be their Shepherd (Ez. 34:23). The Good Shepherd not only feeds the sheep. He lays down his life for them. He also calls his followers to lay down their lives for others. The Good Shepherd not only liberates the sheep from sin. He also set forth the pattern of life-giving-service-for-others that expresses his own nature and will as the ground of abundant life for all (John 10:10). Every day we hear and see egregious examples of bad shepherding—abuse, indifference, manipulation, self-serving ignorance, ad nauseum—at every level of personal and public life. But, thank God, we also see amazing examples of good shepherding—lives and communities touched by the Stranger of Galilee who wills that all lives really matter to God and God’s people.