Jesus the Shepherd
Sermon preached by Rev Charles Royden Ordinary 16 Year B 2012
I would like us think about the passage from Mark today where we read that Jesus saw the crowd and regards them as ‘sheep without a shepherd, ’ and we are told that Jesus had compassion on the crowds.
I often find it helpful when writing sermons to look at the Greek words which the Gospel writers use. I have some big old dusty books which look at the meaning behind the Greek words and sometimes they reveal important information.
Today in the Gospel reading, when Marks says that Jesus had compassion, the word which Mark uses is (spalgnitzomai). It means more than Jesus just feeling sorry for them.
Think what it is like when we go to foreign countries and we see people in dreadful poverty. Or even in our own country we might sometimes drive past people and think what a sad miserable life they must lead in poverty or deprivation of some kind. At times like this we feel sorry for people. With Jesus when he saw the people, there was more than just feeling sorry. The word means that Jesus was really deeply moved, it is a word which refers to a deepness within our entrails. Marks is saying that Jesus was so moved that his stomach was upset.
One reason why Jesus felt so moved for these people was because those who were supposed to help them were just looking after themselves. The sheep were without a shepherd and sheep with no shepherd are in danger, they can be attacked and they can get lost, they are vulnerable to predators. Who should have been concerned about the people ?
King Herod. He had just killed John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who was really trying to help ordinary people and lead them back to God.
The religious leaders. They were angry at Jesus because he was teaching people about God in such as way as to make them seem ridiculous with their petty rules and regulations. You will remember how Jesus had entered the synagogue in Chapter 3 and he saw a man with a withered hand and we are told that the Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see if Jesus would break the law and heal the man on the Sabbath. We are told that Jesus was angry at their hard hearts and he healed the man. Mark tells us that Herod and the religious leaders joined together and decided early on that they must destroy Jesus.
So here the battle lines are drawn, the great and good and the religious ones, against the carpenter Jesus who was on the side of the poor, the powerless and those who had been led to believe that they were of no consequence to God. It is very interesting to note the contrast which Mark has drawn. In Chapter 3 Verse 5 Mark describes these religious leaders who really couldn't care for people, and Marks says
‘Jesus looked around with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart’
This is the contrast. The religious leaders had hard hearts, whereas Jesus looked around and felt compassion
The ones who were supposed to be shepherds could not be shepherds because they didn’t care. A Shepherd has to have a soft heart, a compassionate heart like Jesus. It is interesting isn’t it that we think of somebody who is soft hearted as a bit soft in the head. They are people who do really good things, but they don’t really understand what people are like and they get taken advantage of.
We tend to understand more readily the phrase ‘tough love,’ this is love with our feet firmly on the ground.
Well Jesus is not the tough love sort of person. The only ones he is tough with are those who think they don’t need the love and are better than everybody else.
Jesus spent his whole ministry being soft hearted. Jesus told stories which showed just how soft hearted God was he was. The Good Shepherd will become exhausted and go to any lengths to find what is his and has been lost.
That is what God is like. God is not going to give up. God is relentless and will leave no stone unturned looking for that which has gone astray. This compassionate nature of God is what causes to sing about 'a love that wilt not let me go.' This is why the illustration of a shepherd is such a good one, looking for errant sheep is what shepherds do, they go and put themselves in danger looking for stupid sheep who don't even know they have gone astray, let alone felt sorry for their wayward behaviour .
We probably have the wrong image for the sheep. We see a lovely little white fluffy lamb and Jesus and that is the image we use for the sheep and the shepherd.
I suppose that fits with our idea that God loves us when we behave ourselves. The point is that we have a good shepherd, not a good sheep. The words of Jesus are very clear, he is a good shepherd who loves us despite us failing.
Think of some of the stories which Jesus told about the nature of God’s love, stories like the prodigal son who took his inheritance and squandered it in loose living. One day he "came to himself" and returned to his father’s house, not hoping to be restored as a son, but wanting only to be hired as a servant. His father saw him coming and "had compassion" on him. Before the son could sputter out his speech of repentance, the father placed on him a son’s ring and robe and shoes and called for a homecoming feast.
If that is not soft hearted then nothing is.
The wonderful thing about the Good News is that Christ died for naughty sheep.
Desmond Tutu said ‘God did not wait until we were dieable for'
No, God loved us in spite of us being whilst we were wandering naughty sheep, which cross roads and get stuck in barbed wire and fall into dirty ditches.
God loves us and this is a remarkable thought which we find it hard to understand.
Until perhaps we think about love. When we love then we will do remarkable things, we will sit at hospital beds with our loved ones, nothing is too much trouble for love.
This is the message which Jesus tries very hard to get across in his parables.
Often pop stars will say to their crowds ‘I love you all.’ The crowd love it, but that love is not really love at all. When Jesus speaks to the crowd his love is such that he will die for them. The Gospel writer wants to show that this love of Jesus is deeply personal, so personal that in a crowd pressing about him, Jesus can feel our need and respond to our faith.
And we need to respond, we are called to respond, knowing that as we reach out in all of our doubt and chaos, Jesus will turn with compassion.
This teaching is incredible liberating.
It is liberating for the weak and the vulnerable. They need to know that they have worth before God, that nobody should ever feel of less value than somebody else. It is liberating for us when we recognise that God does not make unimportant people. Everybody has worth and value to God, he made them and as children of God we are to show the same compassion and care that Christ showed
It is also liberating for the privileged. They need to know that they do not have any greater value because they have managed to gain wealth or power. Many people need to know that they are not valuable to God because of the things which are around them or because they are clever.
Jesus loves the lost sheep, the stupid sheep, the sheep that got into trouble. Jesus loves the sheep, not because it has rehabilitated itself, but because it is part of the flock, belonging to the Shepherd. Jesus had compassion is one of the most important things we can say about Jesus, and about God. In the midst of a world in which everyone is afraid of their own shadows, and, if they believe in God at all they believe God to be either remote and uncaring, or cruel and vindictive; we in the church have been called to witness to the fact that he had compassion.
Now the other lesson which we must take to hear is that Jesus will not let his compassion stay with God or in heaven. He commands: "Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate."
We find Christ when we are concerned about other people's sufferings. We must be Christ to the world. Listen to these words which i will leave you with this morning, in which she speaks that we must be the compassion of Christ.
Christ Has No Body Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Moved with compassion - Εσπλαγχνισθη, from σπλαγχνον, a bowel. The Jews esteemed the bowels to be the seat of sympathy and the tender passions, and so applied the organ to the sense.
Επλαγχνιζομαι signifies, says Mintert, "to be moved with pity from the very inmost bowels. It is an emphatic word, signifying a vehement affection of commiseration, by which the bowels and especially the heart is moved." Both this verb and the noun seem to be derived from σπαω, to draw; the whole intestinal canal, in the peristaltic motion of the bowels, being drawn, affected, and agitated with the sight of a distressed or miserable object. Pity increases this motion of the bowels, and produces considerable pain: hence σπλαγχνιζομαι, to have the bowels moved, signifies to feel pity or compassion at seeing the miseries of others.