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Easter 4B Gospel

In the very last “housekeeping” conversation Jesus has with Peter in John’s gospel chapter 21, the Good Shepherd implores The Rock, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” The weekly gospel passage from John 10:1-13 Jesus delivers two of the seven “I Am” statements, both having to do with care for sheep. Jesus is casting a vision of leadership in the church that looks more like the humble shepherds who first heard the announcement of his birth than the emperors, kings and rulers who ultimately put him to death.

Jesus’ vision of leadership is perfectly continuous with the depiction of leadership God had been calling forth from the people of Israel throughout the story of salvation. His words about the gate for the sheep and the Good Shepherd also a timely response to the context found in the healing that takes place in John chapter 9. This vision of leadership offers a sharp critique of the Pharisees in his company and for the church today. Ultimately, his words are good news for those who respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd.

History of leadership

When the people of Israel first ask for a King, God warns them that kings will take their sons for the armies, their daughters for their servants, and their best crops from their tables. God says, to Samuel, “it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king (1 Sam 8:7b).”

When Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel God tells Samuel that this is the man who will, “rule over my people.” And rule he did. However, his leadership was not in line with God’s leading. When Samuel anoints David as King – the shepherd boy who is a man after God’s own heart – the word of the Lord is different. The Lord says of David, “It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel (2 Sam 5:2).” In turn, David confesses, “The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23).” The leader who finds favor in the eyes of the Lord is modeled after the lowly shepherd and not after the rulers and kings of the surrounding world powers.

The history of kings after David is filled with scandal and apostasy as well as some brief moments of surprising faithfulness. Yet, the words of the prophets are filled with poignant charges against the leaders of Israel. Most notably among these chargers is the 34th chapter of Ezekiel. The Lord commands Ezekiel to “prophesy against the shepherds of Israel.” This chapter reveals the wide spread understanding within the faith tradition of Israel that leaders ought to be shepherds of the people. But as Ezekiel mercilessly outlines in chapter 34, the leaders of late have been more interested in their own wellbeing than feeding or caring for the sheep. In a message that shares the same rhetorical power of the prophet who calls bones back to life, the Lord tells Ezekiel to warn the leaders of Israel: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice (Ez 34:15-16).”

The Lord has called forth leaders who will shepherd the people of God and who will concern themselves with feeding more than leading. But in the absence of such shepherds, the work of leading the people of God will be hired out no longer. When Jesus makes his powerful statements about being the gate and the Good Shepherd, he is making a bold indictment against the current leadership of Israel in the prophetic tradition of Ezekiel. His audience, noted in John 10:1, is none other than the Pharisees who have just proven to be cut from the same cloth of the false shepherds condemned to be “fed with justice.”

The man born blind

If the story of the kings of Israel set the historical backdrop for John chapter 10, the healing of the man born blind sets the immediate backdrop. In John chapter 9 Jesus encounters a man born blind, puts mud on his eyes and orders the man to wash in the pool of Siloam where he is healed. This very public miracle becomes an opportunity for Jesus to