Sunday 3rd May 2020 is the Patronal Festival for the Parish of the Good Shepherd, Ashton-under-Lyne. My colleague Revd. Ben Brady prepared our Parish’s Reflection for the 3rd May. He writes:
Jesus the Good Shepherd
How many times have you heard your name? I only have to think back to being in school and hearing it every registration time. There were also times when teachers didn’t appreciate my stellar performances in Maths, English and Science (to name just a few) – But they all blur into an innumerable mass in my memory.
However, there is one voice that I remember very clearly and even fear…”Benjamin!” My mum. She could always stop me in my tracks (still can). No matter how loud the room or how far out of sight I thought I was getting my cousin into a headlock, over it all I would hear my mum’s voice. For each of us, there are those special voices that we know, trust and immediately listen to.
The passage from John’s Gospel speaks about recognising the voice of Jesus. The calling and promptings we have daily to live by his example, knowing that he draws close to us. Our Gospel reading this week comes after Jesus healed a man of blindness and yet, despite this, the Pharisees still did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. I find it amusing that this Sunday is ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ but the reading stops short before verse 11 where Jesus actually says ‘I am the good shepherd’. I will sneakily push the set reading forward by a verse to include Jesus as The Good Shepherd because I believe this can help us explore what John is saying to us about Jesus as The Gate.
The Gospel reading has some characters that need unpacking. There are thieves and bandits, strangers, a gate keeper, sheep and Jesus. The back drop to the story is a sheep pen. It has walls and one way in and out through a gate. We can think of ourselves as the sheep and the pantomime villains (who deserve boo’s and hisses) are the thieves and bandits – those things trying to undermine and wreak havoc in our lives. They try to climb in over the wall. They deliberately avoid the gate. The job of the gatekeeper is to protect the sheep by knowing who to let in or out. I think it is interesting to reflect on what the gatekeeper is doing in this story. We are not told what he gets out of doing his job or how much he cares about the sheep. Perhaps this character is only mentioned by Jesus to highlight the fact that Jesus is not just another gatekeeper, he is The Gate! He is the thing that the thieves and bandits can’t tackle. This is where Jesus takes it to another level. Jesus describes Himself as the physical gate that seals and holds secure the sheep within the pen. He was built to do this, his purpose is to guard and protect.
Now the sheep pen is not only used by one shepherd. We are told the shepherd enters, calls his sheep and they follow him. The pen is crowded with other sheep belonging to other shepherds, but we are told that they recognise their shepherd’s voice and ignore that of the stranger. I find it interesting that the sheep follow the shepherd. They trust him as their leader. He does not try to herd them from behind.
Jesus is both The Gate that holds us secure and The Good Shepherd that leads us. We are to follow because we recognise his voice and can feel sure in His guidance. I love this image of being led by someone we can know and trust. Even though I know that Jesus is always with me, I sometimes need to remember that He also goes ahead of me. I find it grounding to think of the future as somewhere with a familiar face ready to meet me. Jesus goes first, we follow. Jesus is not a hired hand letting people in and out who will leave at the first whiff of danger. Jesus the Good Shepherd will listen when we cry out to him. No matter how far we feel we stray or wander, He is already ahead of us and will always call us home and meet us with an embrace that spans all heights, depths, shame and fear.
Also provided by Ben.
Carrying on with our Shepherd theme, here is a reflective prayer using a version of Psalm 23 written by Scotty Smith from The Gospel Coalition.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
Dear Lord Jesus, you are my shepherd, my Good Shepherd. You give me everything I need and more than I want. All I need in life is you, plus what you choose to give me.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
Even the most difficult places in life are like green meadows as long as you are there; and in the desert seasons of my journey and the drought like conditions of my heart, you quench my thirst with living water and give me a peace that passes all understanding.
3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name.
By your grace I’ve learned to boast in my weakness, and pose and pretend less. For when I come to the end of my strength, you faithfully meet me there—granting me rest in my weariness and strength for my tired heart and body. I am so grateful that you have both marked the path for me, and that you yourself are my Way, Truth and Life. I want to honour your name much more than I want to go my way and get my way.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
Jesus, you never promised me that the journey towards the new heaven and new earth would be easy, quick, or without seasons and circumstances that are overwhelming; but you have promised never to leave or forsake me, even in the darkest valley. That’s all I really need to know—that you are close and that you love me, and that you won’t let anything happen to me outside of your perfect plan for my life. Even when you have to discipline me, the goal is my comfort and always your glory.
5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honour me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Jesus, you are taking me to the feast of all feasts—the wedding feast of the Lamb; but long before that Day, you, yourself are my portion, banquet and feast—Bread from Heaven, my nourishment and satisfaction. Though enemies threaten, you feed me, anoint my life with your grace and Spirit, and cause my cup to spill over with blessings, for the benefit of others.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Absolutely nothing will keep me out of the new heaven and new earth; and, just as certainly, nothing can possibly separate me from your goodness and unfailing love—at any time or in any place. Until the Day I long for more than any other arrives, I rest in your love and trust in your grace. Jesus, thank you for your promise to never stop pursing me.
So very Amen I pray, in your glorious and powerful name.