The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd)
O God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As a former English teacher, I learned every obnoxious way to correct my students’ grammar. It’s whom, not who. It’s you and me, not you and I. Cakes are done, people are finished. These lines are standard equipment for English teachers, along with sweater vests and red pens.
One of my most well-worn cliches was always, Superman does good, you’re doing well. We don’t have to delve into improper adverbial use here, but we should note that this hinges on the multiplicity of meanings for our English word good. It can refer to sufficient quality—this is a good bike. It can refer to giving pleasure or satisfaction—the ice cream tastes good. And it can also describe moral virtue—the child was very good.
In John 10, when Jesus proclaims himself the good shepherd, how shall we understand this? The Greek word John uses here is kalos, the familiar word meaning beautiful or worthy. But consider for a moment, the depth of the goodness of Jesus as our shepherd.
Jesus is the most capable shepherd to care for the sheep. He is of ‘sufficient quality.’ Because he knows them each by name (John 10:3), only he can call them back when they’ve wandered. Only he knows the lay of the land—where the grass flourishes and where the danger lurks. And only this shepherd is willing to put his own life on the line to ensure the safety of the flock. He is good.
As our shepherd, only Jesus satisfies. Only his presence, only his voice can set our little sheep hearts to beating and tails to wagging. Only his silhouette against the night sky brings us comfort when we are huddled down to sleep in the sheepfold. He is good.
And finally, Jesus is the only shepherd who is motivated out of a morally good and selfless desire for us to flourish. The hired hand may do what it takes to make sure he maintains the headcount from day to day, but he does so only for the promise of a paycheck. Only Jesus would leave the nintety-nine to make sure that the lamb who wanders isn’t lost (Luke 15:4). He is good.
What binds the multi-faceted goodness of Jesus our shepherd together is the intimate and unmatched love he has for each of his sheep. Our collect this week emphasizes this clearly: that he knows each one of us by name and calls us individually away from our wandering and into a life of following his good guidance.
The goodness of our shepherd should serve as our model as well. We learn from his example that all our hopes to achieve greatness, to satisfy the needs of those who depend on us, and to live a morally ‘good’ life are bound up in the simple mandate to love sacrificially. The chief qualification that will distinguish us from the ‘hired hands’ of this world will be our willingness to lay down our lives for the sake of others.
And we can only be schooled in such a love by Jesus, our good shepherd.
Kolby Kerr is an Anglican priest who serves at Restoration Anglican Church in Richardson, Texas. He’s also the Assistant Director (and regular blog contributor) at LeaderWorks, a nonprofit organization that provides leadership services to help church leaders do their work. Before joining LeaderWorks, Kolby taught high school English for ten years. He and his wife Emily live in Richardson with their two sons, Beckett and Samuel.