The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B, Church of the Good Shepherd, Brentwood, April 21, 2024

I am the good shepherd” (Jo. 10:11).

“Beautiful, fine, precious, noble, praiseworthy, salvific, excellent”: these are all translations that are alternatives to the word “good” in Jesus’ statement in our Gospel today. What kind of shepherd is Jesus, anyway? I found a few others in my Greek grammar book, as well, that are not quite as resonant: “useful, fit to purpose, free of defect,” even “unobjectionable.”

“I am the unobjectionable shepherd” doesn’t quite cut it, does it? Was Jesus really trying to be unobjectionable? I think not. In fact, a great many people found him to be the exact opposite, quite objectionable indeed. So if that was who Jesus set out to be, he failed completely.

“Beautiful, fine, precious, noble, praiseworthy, salvific, excellent” are another matter entirely. These are all words that could easily stand alongside the word “good” and serve to amplify it. They help prevent us from reducing the range of what it means to be “the good shepherd;” of qualifying it and making it easy to understand. Being a “good shepherd” is not simply a matter of being efficient or productive, effective at warding off the wolves and leading the sheep to green pastures. Nor is it just a moral statement: “the good shepherd” doesn’t just have clean hands and a pure heart; he isn’t just possessed of a superlative “do-gooder” and “caregiver” resume. Broadening the scope here opens up, not only the meaning of Jesus’ ministry, but also what it means for us to be Jesus’ disciples.

We follow the Lord who is “beautiful, fine, precious, noble, praiseworthy, salvific, excellent.” He’s that kind of shepherd, one you want to follow because he is the best, good in and of himself. Another way of saying this is that Jesus is compelling: you want to spend time with him because he’s remarkable. We seek him out because he’s amazing.

Here Psalm 27 can help us, with its resonance with our own Psalm 23 this morning. “One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Ps. 27:5-6). We want to dwell in the house of the Lord forever (that’s Psalm 23) because it’s the place the Shepherd lives (as Psalm 27 says), not just a place he’s leading us. The Good Shepherd is on the move, but he’s leading us to the place where he is at home, where we will see his face. Wherever he is, there we’ll find the green pastures.

“I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (Jo. 10:14-15), as it says in our Gospel today. Knowing the good shepherd, and being known by him, is the opportunity we have this Easter season. This knowledge is like the knowledge Jesus has of his heavenly Father. We’re given fifty days to enter more deeply into relationship with the good shepherd who is “beautiful, fine, precious, noble, praiseworthy, salvific, excellent” in and of himself. As the disciples say to Jesus a little earlier in the Gospel of John, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jo. 6:69).

In Eastertide, we’re invited to “hang out” with Jesus, to get to know him better. We deepen our knowledge and love of him throughout this holy season, and learn more fully what it means to be his disciples. We do this first through prayer, the conversation we have with God. If you are praying, you want to do far more listening than speaking. As followers of Jesus, we have to listen closely for the directions in order to follow the way. In this conversation we have with God, we come to know Jesus better, and we come to know ourselves better as well.

Second, by sharing in the sacraments, we come to share the life of Christ more fully. When Jesus says, “this is my body,” “this is my blood,” he makes bread and wine the symbols of life itself: his own life, shared with others, shared with us. If Jesus is (one more time) “beautiful, fine, precious, noble, praiseworthy, salvific, excellent,” then his intention is to make us as fit for purpose as he is, as excellent as the Master himself.

Third, by sharing in his own works of mercy, we are remade in the likeness of the One who is the image of God. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jo. 10:11), it says in our Gospel. Our offering of ourselves, in works of love and service, builds up the flock, and unites us more deeply with Jesus and with one another. Today at the Church of the Good Shepherd, our confirmands are showing us the way, as they enter more fully into the life of discipleship and their knowledge of the Son of God. This Eastertide, we come to know Jesus better, and enter more fully into relationship with him.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee