Misericordias Domini - Easter 3
John 10:11-16 22 April 2006
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus says that He will make one flock and one shepherd of those who hear His voice. Pastors in the one holy Church are sent throughout the world to preach Christ and Him crucified and repentance and forgiveness in His name. Those sheep who hear His voice and follow Him are gathered into one flock under one Shepherd. This one flock is made up of believers, both Jews and Gentiles. A congregation like ours is a picture of this flock which consists of people who hear the Word of God and believe. They are people of different nationalities, races and walks of life who receive and trust in God's forgiveness in Christ and in His salvation for them. Christ Himself gathers them through His Word and makes of them one flock, one Church, washed in Holy Baptism and fed in the one true faith in His Body and Blood. This week another class of seminarians will receive their calls to be pastors, or shepherds of God's people, in various places around the world. They will be called to serve the people by faithful proclamation of the holy Word and right administration of the sacraments that God's holy people may be strengthened in the faith, that is that people hear and receive through these pastors the voice of Christ Himself. He is the good Shepherd and the Door through which we come to the Father. As Saint Augustine writes, "Both Peter and Paul and all the other apostles were shepherds: all good bishops are shepherds. But none of us calls himself the door." (ACCS, 4a, 345) The Lord knows our need and provides pastors for the Church and through their faithful preaching we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and come to know Him and taste of His abundant mercy.
Hearing the Good Shepherd's voice is what it is all about. Unfortunately, some do not want to hear His voice, nor listen to His Word. Some pastors will not be received as being those sent by Christ and His Church. It should come as no surprise that there are those within the Church whose hearts and minds are far from the Word of God. Their minds are on earthly things. Pastors are tempted in this way and must always be on alert. So must God's people be alert so that they do not, knowingly or un-knowingly separate pastors from the very Word of God they are sent and called to proclaim. Still, it is realistic to say that, in this day and age, that even within the churches there are those who see the pastor and his office not in terms of proclaiming the voice of the Shepherd but rather as someone who is here simply to fulfill certain functions for the sake of advancing the institution. Where this is the case, then already the voice of the good Shepherd is not being heard.
The truth of the matter is that while one flock is created of those who hear the voice of the Shepherd this same voice causes division. After Jesus said that He was the Good Shepherd who would give up His life for His sheep the holy Scripture states, "Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings. And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (vv. 19-21) Also today Jesus' voice causes division between those who hear and those who shut their ears, both inside and outside the Church. But we would not know this voice, nor our salvation, nor our Father in heaven were it not for those Apostles who heard His voice and who, having witnessed His resurrection in the flesh, were also sent out by Him to proclaim the Gospel to souls struggling with sin. Through the preaching of Peter and Paul and the rest many heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and believed. Others did not. The fate of most all of the Apostles is that they became martyrs, that is, they faced opposition unto death, for the sake of Christ and His sheep. Thus, while the message they preached was supernatural, salvation by God's grace through faith in Christ, the consequences for the Apostles was quite real. They gave their lives and shed their blood for the sake of Christ and His Gospel and so demonstrated the depth of their faith in carrying their crosses and following Him. The Church is built on the apostles and the evangelists, Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone. So the early church "remained steadfast in the apostles' doctrine." (Acts 2)
The Apostles gave testimony of what they had seen and heard, that Jesus had suffered and died and was raised to life on the third day. The Gospel is that, in spite of our opposition and our focus on earthly things, in spite of our sin and impatience with God and His Word, that the Good Shepherd gave His life for us as He said He would. "He endured the cross for our sakes that by death He might destroy death. He was condemned for our sakes that He might deliver all of us from condemnation for sin, abolishing the tyranny of sin by means of faith and 'nailing to His cross the bond that was against us' . . ." (Cyril of Alexandria, ACCS, 4a, 347) Indeed, He is the Good Shepherd for His death takes away the sin of the world. This is not a hireling, who cares nothing for the sheep and who seeks only to shepherd for personal gain. This is not a shepherd who abandons the sheep when the wolf comes. "In this way, when the good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep, He did not lose it. In this way He held His sheep; He did not abandon them. Indeed, He did not forsake them but invited them. He called and led them through fields full of death and a road of death to life-giving pastures." (Peter Chrysologus, ACCS, 4a, 350)
He is the good Shepherd. The sheep will not scatter when they hear His voice for this is the One who gave Himself up for them on the cross. This Shepherd not only cares, way beyond that of any pastor, He is full of God's mercy and this mercy is His gift to us. He dies and we have life. He lives and we have eternal dwelling with Him in heavenly glory. As He draws all men to Himself on the cross so they hear His voice and are baptized into Him and His death and resurrection, the daily life of the baptized. They hear His voice in the pastor's announcement of absolution and his preaching of the Gospel. They come to the altar and hear His voice again when He says "This Is My Body", "This Is My Blood", "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." He knows us and through His voice we know Him. In knowing Him and His voice we know His Father the One who, in love, sent Jesus to us. This Shepherd, though we go astray, makes of us one flock. And though, because of sin, we depart from His voice that is spoken to us, we "have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls." (1 Peter 2:25) This congregation and the one holy Church of which she is a part does not exist nor will it continue or thrive if we are going to place our focus on our plans, nor on our efforts, nor even on the efforts of the pastor. Neither he nor the members can make of one flock the scattered sheep. Only He who gives His life for the sheep can make of all one flock. Only Jesus can say to us, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Lk. 12:32, cited by Cyril of Alexandria, ACCS, 4a, 347)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.