Good shepherd, bad shepherd.

Signpost for Fourth Sunday in Easter: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30.

The image of the Lord as the good shepherd appears throughout the scriptures. The twenty-third psalm is one of them and has been set to music in various ways: congregational hymns, choirs and for solo singers. One of my favourite settings is from Dvorak’s Ten Biblical Songs. The words are modified slightly to suit the rhythm of the Czech language for which the music was written, giving a somewhat different emphasis than the translations in the English Bibles:

The Lord is my shepherd,

Therefore can I lack nothing

We tend to concentrate on this image, but there are others in the older scriptures: images of bad shepherds and bad sheep. Here I am going to wander away from the lectionary because it seems to me that we can miss some of the important elements of what Jesus said if we stick only to the images of the faithful following the shepherd. In Ezekiel’s prophecy we find a severe condemnation of the shepherds (rulers) who clothed themselves with the wool, slaughtered and fed on the sheep, but did not take care of them. Therefore the declaration was made that the Lord was against the shepherds.

There was also to be another judgement – fat sheep versus lean sheep: those who eat, then trample the remaining pasture, drink from clear water and then foul it with their feet.

The Lord himself would judge them and be the shepherd who cares for the sheep.

The festival of the dedication was taking place in Jerusalem. It was the re-dedication of the temple that was celebrated, after the statuary set up by Antiochus Epiphanes was destroyed in about 165 BCE. It was a time of patriotic fervour. As they heard the words of Jesus they could well have recalled the prophetic words of Ezekiel, and, in hearing Jesus say, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” they would link what Jesus said to the words of both the psalmist and the prophet, for salvation and judgement.

Since they did not believe the words of Jesus they found themselves counted as excluded, no longer able to say The Lord is my shepherd. Those who believe the word of Christ hear the creative Word bringing new life and purpose: Follow me!



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