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Worship, prayer and Bible resources

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year B

Liturgical Colour - White


Introduction

The image of Jesus shown above is typical of many early examples of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Pictures of Jesus like this carrying a lamb on his shoulders are common in icons, but there is one shown below found in the catacombs from the second century, where Christians used to bury their dead durng the Roman persecution. This type of image can also be found on early grave stones. Jesus likened himself to a shepherd and he said he was a 'good' one. He was contrasting himself to the bad ones who had come before, such as those spoken of in Ezekiel chapter 34. The religious leaders were bad shepherds because they didn't look after the sheep, but rather themslves. They had behaved badly towards the weak, the sick and the vulnerable, but now God himself would become their shepherd and the sheep would be cared for.

Opening Verses of Scripture  Psalm 23 v 1

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.
 

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of your Father's sheep: teach us to hear your voice and to follow your command, that all your people may be gathered into one flock, to the glory of God the Father.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, with the blood of the eternal covenant: make us perfect in every good work to do your will, and work in us that which is well-pleasing in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.   Methodist Worship

Good Shepherd of the sheep, by whom the lost are sought and guided into the fold: feed us and we shall be satisfied; heal us and we shall be made whole; and lead us, that we may be with you; for you are alive and reign, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.   Methodist Worship
 

First Bible Reading   Acts 4: 5-12

The Jewish rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ NRSV

Second Reading  1 John 3: 16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.  NRSV


Gospel Reading   John 10: 11-18

Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘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.’ NRSV

Post Communion Sentence

Merciful Father, you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd, and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again: keep us always under his protection, and give us grace to follow in his steps; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW 

Commentary

Jesus the good shepherdWe do not know what Jesus looked like and there is no physical description of Jesus in the Gospels. The Jews had a history of not liking graven images and so Jewish depictions of people around the first century are scarce. One of the earliest images which we do have of Jesus is that shown of him as The Good Shepherd. During the persecution of the Christians under Rome Christian art appeared on Christian tombs. Christians were buried not burned, because they believed in the bodily resurrection. In the first picture on the left we can see a wall painting from the Catacomb of Callixtus from the early third century. Shepherds were common forms of art showing the pastoral life. Jesus is disguised as Orpheus, young, beardless and in a short tunic.

Whilst we do not know what Jesus looked like, whatever his physical appearance, it is clear from the reading in John today that he felt no difficulty in describing himself and his ministry in a manner which we would think of in terms of hard working, dirty, manual labour. The images of a shepherd which we sometimes have gives a rather false and fluffy depiction of how hard it was to be a peasant shepherd in first century Palestine. The Shepherd worked a hard life on the edges of society, unable to keep the religious laws. The life was one of constant challenges and dangers from nature and from other men who would threaten the sheep. Shepherds were not clean either ritually or physically, because theirs was a life which entailed sacrifice to care for animals who could not care for themselves, no time to go to synagogue.

Jesus describes himself as a worker, willing to put himself in harms way to protect the ones that he loves, not as a remote figure in authority. Jesus is disparaging towards the religious leaders because they were only interested in themselves. Now their time is up and Jesus is showing a new way, a way in which the love of God is revealed towards his people by a shepherd who is faithful and true.

We can only guess what Jesus face might look like, but we see clearly his character and we know his voice. May God grant each one of us the time to be still and calm the noise so that we can still hear that still small voice of Jesus leading his sheep.

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Meditation

Go now with your trust in the good shepherd, and let us love, not just in words, but in truth and action. Believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he has commanded us. And may God be at your side, even in valleys of death. May Christ Jesus be the cornerstone of your life. And may the Holy Spirit abide in you ....and tend you with love and mercy all the days of your life. Nathan Nettleton www.laughingbird.net
 

Hymns

  1. The King of love my shepherd is

  2. Majesty

  3. The Lord’s my shepherd

  4. Fill thou my life

  5. I will sing a wondrous story

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer encouragement in the Christian life

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian,

if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die

Risen Christ,
faithful Shepherd
of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command,
that all your people
may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father.
Amen.

God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell: fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new day has dawned and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Father God, we are thankful for Jesus. We know Him and He knows us. Thank you for all those who have been our shepherds. We ask that you would help us to be your good shepherds. Amen.

Living God, you have given us a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: grant that we, being risen with Him, may fix our hearts on heavenly things and share eternal life. Amen

The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, make you perfect in every good work to do His will; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always. Amen

My natural mother, my gracious mother, my most precious mother, have mercy on me. I have made myself dirty and unlike you, and I may not and cannot make it better, except with your secret help and your grace. Julian of Norwich (c.1342-c.1416)

Grant to us, O Lord, to pass this day in gladness and peace, without stumbling and without stain, that reaching the eventide victorious over all temptation, we may again praise you, the eternal God, blessed over all things now and for ever. Amen Mozarabic Sacramentary, 10th century

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen

 

Jesus the Good ShepherdAdditional Material

Commentary

 

If you ever watched Desperate Housewives on television you will remember the episode where the businessman Carlos returns to work after a kind of breakdown and starts giving money away to people who he believes have suffered from his previous deals shutting down companies and laying people off. He has looked at his life and sees that his wealth is built on the poverty and exploitation of others and he wants to put it right. His wife Gabby is furious and resentful, she tells him that he must care for his family that she will not be hurt as a result of his desire to be a better person and care for others. The episode ends with them being very angry with each other. In the passage from Chapter 10 of John today, there is a similar sort of thing going on. Jesus has healed a blind man and the Pharisees are incredibly resentful of Jesus. Jesus accuses them of not caring for others and thinking only of themselves and he likens them to thieves and robbers. Jesus tells them that he will give away everything, even his life, in order to care for others. By verse 33 of Chapter 11 we read that these Jewish Leaders had decided that they would kill Jesus because of the threat which he posed to their temple and nation.

Jesus was trying to help people to understand that God cared not just for the Jewish people, but for all people. He spoke of ‘other sheep’ that God cared about, those who were outside the Jewish nation. The leaders behaved just like Gabby with Carlos, they were concerned only about themselves and their own interests. Jesus knew that taking on vested interests was dangerous and he speaks clearly about the fact that he will end up like a Good Shepherd, laying down his life for the sheep.

We might be critical of the Jewish leaders and selfish people like Gabby, yet there is always a tendency to be concerned only about the welfare of ourselves and people like us. The Jewish leaders wanted to protect their livelihoods and the Jewish nation, they were unconcerned about the ones Jesus referred to as sheep from another pen.

We can all behave like this when we are suspicious and resentful of others who are in some way different. There is a very human desire to build borders and boundaries, which we then have to define and defend against intruders. God’s desire is rather that these human borders and boundaries are broken down. We do well to remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for all sheep, not just the ones in our flock. His love and willingness to give extends to the whole world which is his family.

One Shepherd, One Sheep Herd
In today’s Gospel Jesus says twice “I am the good shepherd.” The context is the continuation of the discussions Jesus is having with the Pharisees after He has healed a man who was born blind. This man, who was blind, first heard the voice of Jesus and through believing in that voice came to believe and that was his sight. The implication is clear: the Pharisees are blinded by what they see and so are impaired of hearing and therefore do not believe. Hearing and believing becomes the central message of Jesus’ saying that he is the “Good Shepherd.” And, as the good shepherd He will stay faithful whilst the “hired,” or the Pharisees, turn away and have turned away from their vocation of tending and leading their “flock.” The Pharisees hear that they are interested only in being paid and so have made that their mission rather than caring and guiding their flock.

In identifying Jesus as a "good shepherd" John also sets up the contrast not just between Himself and the present day Pharisees but between Himself and the self-serving and corrupt "shepherds" of Israel's past, the wicked kings and leaders whose lack of concern for their people resulted in internal decay and external ruin. Indeed, the corruption of Israel's kings so disgusted God that Ezekiel had prophesied how God would personally come to be their shepherd. Thus in Jesus we see God's desire to shepherd His people personally being fulfilled. What Ezekiel expected to be exercised by God is now accomplished in Jesus. Jesus' care for his sheep is total: He shepherds the flock at the cost of laying down his own life for them. In some ways this is the reverse of what we might expect. Ordinarily in biblical times it was the sheep that were sacrificed. But in Jesus we have no ordinary shepherd!
The good shepherd not only lays down his life for the sheep, He knows the sheep and the sheep know him, not just through some kind of superficial knowledge but through deep experience and a relationship. Jesus, the good shepherd knows His sheep (that’s us!) because, as John tells us at the beginning of His gospel, He "became flesh and lived among us". Jesus knows his own, because he has lived in our skin and has experienced our joys and sorrows.

The ministry of the shepherd is threefold: to protect the sheep, preserve the unity of the flock, and to lead them. The shepherd does whatever he can to protect the sheep from harm and from being scattered. The response of the sheep to such a shepherd is to hear his voice and to follow where he leads. As Christians we have a responsibility to shepherd the community in which we live and to be the sheep that faithfully follow the voice of Christ. It is not enough to go through the motions of being a Christian, Christ wants more than lip service, He wants our hearts.

Contained in the message of the good shepherd there is a clear message regarding all our roles in leadership within the community of faith. Just as it berates the failure of Israel’s spiritual leaders and attacks the ‘professionals’, who are in ministry for the job and not as a calling, it emphasises that without personal commitment to God there can be no real leadership within the church. It’s a reminder to all who seek to lead, in any walk of life, that they need real commitment to the cause and that they need to keep close to those they seek to lead.

John’s gospel also illustrates that the role of the true shepherd is not only to be inward looking and care for the flock already in their charge, but to be outward looking and bring in sheep who are not already part of the flock. Sheep who might be very different from ourselves. We have one shepherd, we should be one Sheep Herd.

Jesus’ way of winning people was to be attractive to them and to care and provide for them, whatever their background or heritage. To lay aside by choice His self ego, and become a door through which they could be nurtured and enter into fellowship with God and each other. Just as Peter was called by Jesus to feed and nurture His sheep, so are we. And in Jesus we have a model which He invites us to follow. To be leaders and shepherds, caring, feeding and nurturing for those in our community whatever flock they may come from.


 

Picture above Catacomb of Callixtus - The Good Shepherd:
The Catacomb of Callixtus was built along the Appian Way, probably by Pope Calixtus in the early third century. As Christianity became prominent, catacomb remains were moved to churches and catacombs fell into disuse. "In the catacomb of Callixtus, dating from the middle of the third century, the Good Shepherd appears again with delicate modelling of form, face, and drapery. Shepherds were common enough as garden figures in pagan villas; they represented a romantic ideal of the bucolic way of life and the more solid merit of good husbandry and economy, but they could equally well be adapted to Christian symbolism. [John Beckwith, "Early Christian and Byzantine Art, Volume 1979." Yale University Press, 1979, p. 21.]