This Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and each year of the three-year lectionary cycle we read a portion of John chapter 10, which uses that beloved image.
1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 4:5-12
This reading occurs following the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Peter and John (3:1-11) and Peter’s subsequent sermon (3:12-26). They have been imprisoned overnight (4:1-4) and are now questioned by the religious authorities. The question put to them about authority is not so much about the healing as it is about their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter, as he so often does in the early chapters of Acts, speaks and uses a well-known text: Psalm 118:22. To say that “there is salvation in no one else” is to say that the reality of Jesus’ resurrection has released fresh energy to restore human life and, indeed, the world.
4:5 The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
2nd Reading: 1 John 3:16-24
In this passage the writer picks up themes we know well from John’s Gospel: life laid down, love for one another, knowing that we are from the truth, and Jesus’ abiding in us. Perhaps a development of John’s Gospel is the notion of love abiding in us “not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” It is certainly consistent with John’s Gospel, however, that the truth is not primarily something you know, but something you do.
3:16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-18
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and each year of the three-year lectionary cycle we read a portion of John chapter 10, which uses that beloved image. This middle portion of the chapter is the most well-known. Jesus makes it clear: “I am the Good Shepherd.” The judgment on “hired hands” echoes Ezekiel 34, a passage critical of “false shepherds” in Israel. The true shepherd is the one who gives his life. He is also the one with whom we have true intimacy. We are known and so we know, a simple sentiment but profound in its implications. Then there are the “other sheep.” Who are they? No one really knows, although there are many theories. It certainly allows us to leave open the door that Peter in the reading from Acts seems to close.
10:11 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services or congregational studyis given, provided this attribution remains.