Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Good Shepherd

A good doctor cares about his patients, a good teacher cares about her students; a good shepherd cares about his sheep.  He does not care about the money; he’s not in it for himself; he’s not a hireling.  This is a description of the heart of God: misericordias domini. 

This is who God is: he is giving; and this is why he made the world in the first place, to have something, someone, to care for.  And the world he made was very good, just like him.

The serpent took all that away from the heart of man when he beguiled him to take for himself.

This is why your heart is now the way it is, and is so unlike the heart of God.  Why it is always necessary to confess your sins.

But God overcame the serpent’s selfishness with love, and overcame evil with good: he gave his life into death.  The Lord, my shepherd, became the ultimate Good Shepherd, to rescue me from myself and from my sins.  To provide divine mercy for me.

Shepherding is a dirty vocation.  This is why the Egyptians despised the Israelites: they were shepherds.  In applying this image to himself, Jesus is at once saying that he is the Lord God Almighty in the work that fulfills the 23rd Psalm, and showing how it was a very filthy thing to do: he was sullied with the sins of the world, and laid down his life.  He became the good shepherd.

But his shepherding did not cease at that point, for he rose from the dead.  What use is a dead shepherd?  He must rise, in order to continue to shepherd his sheep, to care for them.  So on the third day he rose from the dead.

Other sheep have I which are not of this fold: the Gentiles, to whom he sent his apostles.  But he said, them I must bring; so it is that through their ministry he is active in continuing his shepherding of his sheep.

Here, then, is what the church and her ministry are all about: the church is the sheepfold, and the ministry is the shepherding tools of Jesus.  It is also why every good pastor must understand that he is an under-shepherd, that is, a tool of Jesus, and nothing more.  Does the plow get credit for a straight row?  Does the knife get high marks for successful surgery?  So the sheep must know this first of all about their pastors: if the pastor is faithful, and if he ministers well in word and sacrament, it is to the praise and glory of Jesus, for it is in this way, and in no other way that Jesus takes care of his sheep.  Whom they visit, he visits; whom they wash, he washes; whom they feed, he feeds, and what they are, he is; the Good Shepherd, caring for his sheep.

The Gospel and sermon, with the hymn of the day including a special choral section.

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