The readings for the third Sunday in Easter are full of pastoral imagery – sheep grazing in lush pastures, with their Shepherd watching protectively over them. There aren’t too many sheep in Boston, so perhaps we aren’t as familiar with the hardheaded mindlessness of sheep as Jesus’ or Ezekiel’s listeners were. Sheep are a lot of work for a shepherd – constantly straying, having to be led to food and water, and completely helpless against predators. And yet, God takes on all these tasks and more for the sake of His great love for us.
Over and over again in the Old Testament, God promises that He Himself will accomplish the work of salvation. Only God Himself has the power to conquer sin and death, and to bring us into the land He has promised us. By His wounds we are healed, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. Though we live in a sinful and dangerous world, we can say with David:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. Psalm 23:1-4
The Old Testament lesson is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 34, verses 11-16:
For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares 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, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
The Epistle lesson is from 1 Peter, chapter 2, verses 21-25:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
The Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter is from John, chapter 10, verses 11-16:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Good Shepherd, by Bernhard Plockhorst [Public domain]