Blind Sheep and a Good Shepherd
Fourth Sunday of Easter
©2021 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones
That’s a bit like flicking through your TV channels,
or a YouTube feed,
and landing in the middle of something you’ve no idea what.
What happened before, or what’s going to happen next?
Is Jesus standing Yoda-like in a meadow?
Who’s he talking to?
Who are the lousy hired hands? Who are the wolves?
And what about those sheep; are they supposed to be us?
(Now, as one who grew up in sheep country,
I do take exception to being compared,
by my Saviour Jesus,
to dumb, ornery, ovine ungulates with an annoying
propensity for getting stuck, repeatedly, in ditches, hedges, crevices.)
To be fair to Jesus in this text, though,
the focus is on him, not the sheep.
But if it is focused on him,
it feels to me like he’s arguing a point,
but we haven’t heard the argument that provoked it.
So, with a little disrespect for the compilers of the lectionary
who cut off the whole episode that provoked Jesus’ strong
statement, we’re going to hit the rewind button.
And we will see an entire episode!
Jesus, plus his followers, are walking along
and a person born blind sits beside the road,
holding out a Tim’s cup, begging for a nickel.
You’d think Jesus would not only throw the poor soul a quarter,
but heal them on the spot, before moving on.
But before that can happen,
a weird theological ensues
“ Erm, Jesus, Rabbi, before you do anything,
we have this question:
was it the fault of the blind one
or their parents that they were born blind?”
People still ask that question don’t they?
“What did that nice person do to deserve cancer? Did they smoke…..”
“Isn’t HIV a judgment of God?”
“Off sick for depression? They should just buck up, suck up!”
Despite everything we know in the 21st century
about the origins of disease,
we still fall into the gulch of moral condemnation.
It seems this habit is as old as the hills,
and that two thousand years later,
we still have trouble with Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question.
“Neither! Illness has nothing to do
with punishment for sin, past, present or future.
It’s life, people.
The key question is how we respond to the sick…..”
That’s sermon enough right there.
But not the sermon for today…
Jesus doesn’t stop there, or John doesn’t let him.
[Remember, John’s Jesus is always an all-knowing wise sage,
whose every word and action is an
ikon or window into the power of the Word and work of God in the world.]
So Jesus, you guessed it, cures the incurably blind one!
Humans in general, and theologically liberal progressive types like me/you
have trouble with miracles;
if we can’t explain them with science or logic,
we apparently dismiss or disbelieve the recipient of the miracle.
Which is what happens here;
the blind one is now accused of fraud,
driven out of town, banished,
with no means of livelihood, or shelter, or family or community!
Jesus is hauled over the coals for “working” on the Sabbath to heal someone
(even though they dismiss the miracle, and it is NOT against Torah
to preserve life on the Sabbath).
Are we surprised that Yoda-like Jesus is a little tetchy?
He ignores the “Cease and desist” order.
He preaches loudly and not particularly gently
about spiritual blindness,
and then promptly goes off,
into the seedy wasteland beyond the gates of town,
seeking, calling out for,
and eventually finding the banished,
blind-but-now-I see outcast
The encounter between them is beyond words:
a moment of mutual recognition,
the lost and the found,
the healer and healed,
the broken and whole,
and neither knows who is which,
and it doesn’t matter!
Being known, being heard, being found,
coming home, is enough.
Coming back to the gathering crowd,
with the newly sighted, newborn follower in tow,
Jesus resumes and ends his sermon with
“For pity’s sake,
for mercy’s sake,
I was sent by God into this world
so that all people can have life,
and have it abundantly!
Especially this one, and their family.
I imagine open mouths, stunned silence,
and a few frowns,
to which Jesus carries on, saying,
“Don’t y’all see? I am the good shepherd.”
Words that now take on substance, flesh and bone,
not merely as an abstracted ancient pastoral metaphor,
but words grounded in this action,
of healing, defending,
seeking and finding one to whom he has given
an abundance of life undreamed of,
and un-hoped for.
“Do you see, I am the Good Shepherd”
and I will go to the ends of the earth,
I will lay down my life,
looking for, finding and bringing home
every last one who is beloved of God,
and that includes sheep of other folds
that you don’t even know about or imagine,
or believe could possibly be beloved by God.”
This he says, while his arm rests on the shoulder
of the once blind out-cast one,
whose eyes are glistening with sight and delight.
He’s on a roll, this isn’t an academic discourse,
it’s passion personified;
“And don’t you tell me who belongs and who doesn’t
and whether I can heal on the Sabbath….
I know only too well
how many sheep have been abandoned by
the hired hands of rule-bound,
soul-less, heartless religion, politics and society,
because of their so-called sins of simply being
alive and black or brown,
or alive and gay,
or alive and sick,
or alive and homeless, or dirty,
or alive without the right passport,
or alive and mentally ill,
or alive and “too old” too frail to be useful.
Oh, I know my own.
What’s more they know me.
They know God, they know truth,
they know life,
and they are listening for my voice,
because they know me,
and I’m going to keep on doing
whatever it takes my life long,
I will lay down my life
to bring every last beloved one
home to the heart of God.
Now, are you with me?”
Hell yeah, Good Shepherd!
Bring it on!
How do we do that now?
Now’s as good a time as any
for us to figure it out, don’t you think?
Cuz there’s a world out there,
waiting for us to get the hang of
following this Good, Good Shepherd,
all the way home!