4th Sunday of Easter
‘SHEPHERDS TO ONE ANOTHER’
1 John 3:16-24
I once went to a conference overseas that lasted for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy my time there. I didn’t get along well with other people in the conference and was struggling to adjust myself in a new environment. I felt quite miserable and lonely.
One night, as I slept in my room in the dormitory, I had a dream. I dreamt that I was lying in my bedroom in my house. In front of me was the door connecting my bedroom and the living room. As I was laying down in my bed, I felt a sense of warmth and comfort and security, knowing that, behind that door, was my family who knew and loved me for who I was.
Unfortunately, it was only a dream. As I was gradually waking up, the door transformed itself into the door of my room back in my conference dormitory. That sense of warmth and comfort and security immediately disappeared as I faced the real life.
Indeed, we all have a deep desire for a loving home where we feel loved and known. The image of a loving home is also present in our reading today from Psalm 23. We often think that Psalm 23 offers us only one image, which is the image of God as the good shepherd. In the second last verse of the Psalm (verse 5), however, the psalmist no longer imagined himself as a sheep in God’s flock, but as a king facing his enemy’s battle line. The psalmist then ended his palm with a domestic image, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long!”
This image of being in the house of the Lord is the climax of the psalm. Psalm 23 moved from the image of being in the wilderness, to the image of being on the cusp of a violent battle, to a domestic image of being secure inside a house. The psalmist declared that even in the wilderness and in the face of one’s enemy, he felt the same way like when he was in God’s house; he felt secured knowing that God was with him.
But where is this house of God? Is it up in heaven? Well, the psalmist was not imagining himself dwelling in heaven after his death; he dreamt of dwelling in the house of the Lord as long as he was still alive! So the house of God is simply the place where God dwells; it is the place where people will find God’s goodness and kindness.
Indeed, the psalmist drew a parallel between being in a house where God was the head of the family and being in a flock where God was the shepherd. According to him, whether we are sheep in a flock or people in a house, we will find peace and security whenever and wherever God is present amongst us.
The church must become such place to everyone. One of the most enduring images of the church throughout history is the image of the church as God’s flock and Jesus as our shepherd. But it is not enough just to call Jesus as our shepherd; we are called to be like him. We are called to be shepherds to one another; caring and nurturing one another because, according to the first letter of John, when we love one another, God abides in us; and whenever/wherever God is in our midst, we will find security and peace.
But remember, we are to be good shepherds, not simply shepherds. Jesus, in John’s Gospel, pointed out the differences between a good shepherd and a hired man. At the sight of danger or trouble, a hired man would try to save his life first and run away. He ran away because the flock didn’t belong to him.
But a good shepherd did not only protect his flock from wild animals; he was prepared to lay down his life for his flock. A good shepherd would lay down his life not out of obligation or under duress, but out of his own will.
A good shepherd, like Jesus, was ready to do this because his flock belonged to him. He and his flock were no strangers; they knew one another; they belonged to one another. The bond between a good shepherd and his flock was strong.
In other words, the source of a good shepherd’s sacrificial act is love. Indeed, love is a central theme in John’s community; a community for which the Gospel and the letters of John were written for. We hear in John's Gospel (3:16) how God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to the world to save it; and in 1 John 4: 8, we hear that God is love and those who do not love do not know God.
But love here is not love as a feeling; here, love is love in action; the act of love. We abide in God and God in us not when we feel loving, but when we act in love.
True love is demonstrated not in word or speech, but in action, like when one lays down one’s life for the other.
So we are all called not only to have faith in Jesus, but also to love one another. For John’s community, faith and love went hand in hand. One could not have faith in God if one could not demonstrate the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, had demonstrated in his life. The truth of the Gospel could only be revealed when those who followed Jesus demonstrated their love by sacrificing themselves for one another and for the world.
But sacrificing one’s life for others doesn’t have to be dramatic, like loosing one’s life literally. Sacrificial love can and should happen in our day-to-day life in our family, in our workplace, and in our church. Sacrificial love can be manifested in our simple gesture of putting other people and their need first before ours. Indeed, we show sacrificial love when we sacrifice our time, our energy, even our money to help alleviate the suffering of others.
While she was riding her bicycle, Vanessa Ingold of California, USA, was run over by a truck. She had to undergo 18 surgeries and had all of her toes amputated.
Yet, Christ showed himself to her through the Christians of a nearby church. During her six-month stay in the hospital, they visited her and prayed for her daily.
Eventually, she was able to walk again. Yet, she was still very weak. The people from the church then helped her with transportation to the church; some even had to carry her into the church building. Their kind arms supported her all the way until she finally regained her strength.
In this season of Easter, we are reminded the Christ has risen indeed and dwells amongst us. We know that Christ truly dwells amongst us when we love one another not only in words, but also in action. Indeed, the risen Christ is also the Good Shepherd. If we say that we have been risen with him, than we have to be like him, the Good Shepherd, to the people whom he had entrusted to us. Amen.
 Upper Room Daily Devotional, Australia: I Am Mephibosheth by Vanessa Bruce Ingold (11 April 2015)