The good and not so simple shepherd

March 9th, 2015

Light is intangible. The moment you try to hold it in your hands a shadow forms. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” so that we might let Christ’s light shine through us without manipulation. Jesus also says, “I am the bread of life,” which is quite a different divine image. Unlike light which calls for us to get out of the way so that no shadow will form, bread calls us to jump in and get our hands dirty. Bread takes work and sweat and patience. Light shows us the way, and bread sustains us for the journey.

In John 10 Jesus tells the crowd, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Some who were there began to be frustrated with Jesus. They’d heard him say, “I am the light of the world,” and “I am the bread of life,” so they said to him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” I understand their frustration. I remember when I would have trouble with math homework, I would ask my dad for help. Dad would begin by saying something like, “Well, son, first the earth cooled…” All I wanted was the answer, but my father insisted on offering me the history of mathematics. It was frustratingly helpful. It’s one thing to know that the answer to your math homework is 42, but it’s an entirely different venture to understand why.

It’s not enough to know that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus came to re-narrate what Messiah means. Jesus tells the crowd that he is the Good Shepherd, a term used for both God and for God’s servant David. In other words, in Jesus’ ambiguous answer he is saying that he is fully divine and fully human. He is both divine light and earthly bread. He is both the way and the means of the way. The crowd wants a quick answer because they are tired of sitting at Jesus’ feet, so they pierce them along with his hands, head and side, so that they can move along with easy answers without any meaning.

Loving God and loving neighbor is certainly a simple mantra, but it is rarely easy. It asks a lot of you. Christ calls you to walk in the light, to feed others and to feed on the bread of life, to let the good shepherd show you the way, the truth and the life, to stay connected in the vineyard of a community, to walk through the gate of God’s Alpha and Omega and to finally live as if you believe the tomb is empty and that it matters. “I am,” Jesus says. It’s so simple, but means everything.

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