Acts 4. 5 – 12

John 10. 11 – 18

Fr Alex


I wonder how you feel about being compared to a sheep?  We can happily accept Christ as a shepherd – our leader, the one who cares for us and guides us through the path of life.

But if Christ is our shepherd, that must mean that we are the sheep.

I remember the first funeral I ever conducted.  It was for a sailor, a really big tough guy covered with tattoos.  In our meetings before the funeral his family told me of his… colourful life, shall we say.

At the end of the funeral is a prayer which commends the departed to God.  We pray that God will acknowledge this person as “a sheep of his own fold; and a lamb of his own flock.”

As I prayed for him, with all his big tough friends standing in the crematorium, I did have to wonder what they all made of me talking about their mate as a little lamb – probably the least lamb-like person you could meet.

It’s often used in derogatory terms, isn’t it – people who just do what they’re told and follow others are like ‘sheep,’ who can’t think or make decisions for themselves.  No one who wants to be a strong, independent person, would want to be like a sheep.

In short, it speaks to us of weakness, or helplessness.

But there is nothing weak or helpless in this teaching of Jesus, nor in the context in which it was received.  Rather it speaks ultimately to where true strength and power is to be found.

The first readers or hearers of this Gospel received it in the aftermath of the First Jewish War, when their nation, the ‘flock’ of their people, had literally been scattered by the wolf that was Rome.

All those they trusted to lead them had failed them.  The religious authorities had themselves colluded with the power of Rome: when Jesus at his trial confronted Pilate and his assumptions about power, the priests cried out, “we have no king but Caesar.”

Other leading figures had brought them to the greatest catastrophe imaginable, in a misguided rebellion: the destruction of their holy city, and the great temple: the place of God’s presence on earth, and the beating heart of their faith.

Truly they were the ‘hired hands’ who only looked after themselves, and ran away from the wolf to leave the people scattered and helpless.

They only led the people to death.  But Jesus, the good shepherd, leads his people to life.

Jesus tells them that the love that this shepherd has for his sheep is so incredibly strong, that this shepherd would give up everything for them – even his own life.  He gives up his life and experiences death, so that they may know life in all its fulness.

True life, true safety, says Jesus, is no longer to be found in a place: the sheepfold of the nation, or the temple and the structures of the old religious law.  But rather in a person: in Jesus, who knows his own, who calls them in by name, and lays down his life for them.

Putting our faith in Jesus and answering his call to discipleship, gathers us into one flock, under one shepherd: united, and able to resist all that seeks to scatter and divide us.

The wolves may still attack, of course.  But we don’t face them alone, and helpless.  With Jesus we encounter the difficult times in his strength, knowing that he has already overcome all that causes us to fear. 

Because Jesus is the shepherd – but he also knows what it’s like to be a lamb.  He is the sacrificial lamb, led to the slaughter. 

But he has overcome even death itself.  And that our membership of his flock empowers us mere humans to overcome it too, with him.

This is the message we see constantly throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry: that where the world sees only weakness, Jesus reveals the greatest strength.

As St Peter said in our first reading from Acts, the rulers, elders and scribes looked at Jesus and saw weakness: he was like a stone that the builders rejected.

But looking with the eyes of faith, we can see that in truth Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation of all that comes after.  “There is no other name under heaven given among mortals” that can give us this same strength to overcome.

Where do we look for strength and security in our own time?  I don’t know about you but I have absolutely no idea where to look – or what to do when it comes to the next general election, to be honest.

And when we look at all the institutions we expect to support us – and look at leaders around the world – all seem to be failing to protect their people and lead them into the fullness of life that all deserve.

Our people, even our national Church, are scattered and divided over issues of identity, sexuality, our interpretation of history and who we are as a nation, and so much more.

I feel that people who spend their time arguing about these things are like the hired hands.  They say “I’ve got the answers, follow me”– but ultimately they lead people only to confusion and division.

Look instead to Jesus our shepherd, to the strength he gives to us, his sheep.  Put your faith in his call to discipleship – to the unity of the one flock, the new family into which he leads us.  Embrace his promises, and claim the identity he gives to us as Christians, saved and protected by his sacrifice of love.

And may our gentle and powerful shepherd lead us into the fulness of life which he longs for us to enjoy.  Amen.