God is Not the Butcher

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Easter 4 | 05.12.2019 | John 10:22-30

Today is the Sunday in the liturgical year that is often called, “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

Now, I’ve told this story before, but I almost cannot NOT tell this story when this passage comes and Good Shepherd Sunday comes around. It’s too perfect.

In other words, in trying to understand Jesus’ self-imposed metaphor as Good Shepherd (which he gave the disciples right before our gospel reading today—John 10:11), here is a story from an author named, Lynn Anderson:

Several years ago in Palestine, Carolyn and I rode a tour bus through Israel’s countryside nearly mesmerized as the tour guide…included a heart-warming portrayal of the ancient shepherd/sheep relationship…how he feeds them and gently cares for them…[how, particularly,] the shepherd doesn’t drive the sheep but leads them, and that the shepherd does not need to be harsh with them, because they hear his voice and follow…

He then explained how on a previous tour things had backfired for him as he was giving this same speech about sheep and shepherds. In the midst of spinning his pastoral tale, he suddenly realized he had lost his audience. They were all staring out the bus window at a guy chasing a ‘herd’ of sheep. He was throwing rocks at them, whacking them with sticks…[1]

In other words, this guy was literally doing what the tour guide was saying that shepherds DO NOT do. He was driving the sheep rather than leading them from the front and he was being aggressive and abusive. So, the guide stopped the bus, jumped off and confronted the man to ask what in the world he was doing, and that he had just finished telling the tour that this is not how shepherds treat their flock!

“What is going on?’ demanded the tour guide.

The man responded, well…“‘I’m not [the] shepherd…I’m [the] butcher.’”[2]

With that, today we are reminded that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

Changing gears a bit:

“If they really knew me…they wouldn’t like me. They wouldn’t accept me. If they really knew me, they would judge me. They would ridicule me.”

Do any of you ever think that?

I do. Sometimes I even think about it with all of you “If they REALLY knew me, like really knew my faults, my inner most thoughts, my embarrassing qualities and moments, my deepest regrets…it would all come crumbling down.”

I think each of us harbors parts of us for fear of retaliation or consequence. Why do you think on Facebook we only present our most glamorous sides? We truly let very few, if even anyone, not even our spouses, know us fully and completely.

It is scary, the thought of being fully known.

And sisters and brothers, Jesus in this passage, is saying that he does fully know us. As the Shepherd of his sheep, according to him, he really knows (10:27)—he knows the darkest parts, the regrettable histories, the failures, and brokenness.

And what is his response to knowing us so deeply? Is it ridicule? Is it rejection? Is it condemnation and punishment?

Well, let’s take a look at what he says.

Jesus: “I know them…I give them eternal life” (10:27-28). There you have it.

That is grace. Jesus truly knows who we are, and on that knowledge he announces that he loves us to the greatest degree—to our salvation. The Good Shepherd truly did not come to the world to condemn it, but to save it (3:17).

So my dear friends, fear not. The Son of Man knows you fully and completely, and he loves you deeply, even to the point of death. From that love we can resurrect in this life, we can rise up in the face of our insecurities and cast off our fears, shed our darkest regrets, and embrace our quirky or unsure qualities, for we are known and we are still worth everything.

Not only that, I do wonder if there is also something beautiful and comforting about being fully known in this case. As one biblical scholar puts it: “Jesus says, ‘I know my own and my own know me” (v. 14)—“That means there are no strangers in this flock, none who should feel that he or she is unrecognized.”[3] While there is something frightening about being fully known to others, with the grace of the Good Shepherd, there can also be something profoundly comforting. We are fully known and we are fully embraced.

We can accept that we are accepted (Peter Rollins). We can boldly accept this because Jesus knows our faults, our darkest histories, our most brutal selves. God in Jesus knows those parts of each of us – and with that knowledge, he is not a butcher! His response is not to cut, tear us apart, and serve us up, but to shepherd.

Finally, this is where today’s text ties in with last week. Last week, Jesus told his disciples what it looks like to affirm him and to be people of his resurrection (21:15-19)— he told us that it looks like feeding his sheep, tending to his lambs, and loving one another as he loved us.

Today, and always, it’s the same—what does it mean as his sheep whom are fully known and embraced, to “hear his voice”? It means following him confidently and therefore letting fear and shame depart, and it means following him in feeding the other sheep and tending the other lambs. To hear his voice is to love one another in the way that he shepherds us (cf. 13:35; 15:9-12). To hear his voice is to be shepherds to one another, and not butchers.

At last, sisters and brothers, I encourage you to use the photo of the shepherd on your bulletin as a reminder of who God is for each of us every day[4]—a shepherd …and a good one. Use it as a reminder of how we are called to treat one another, as the Good Shepherd first showed us. Amen.

     [1] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/sheep-or-goats-richard-white-sermon-on-good-shepherd-194991.

     [2] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/sheep-or-goats-richard-white-sermon-on-good-shepherd-194991.

     [3] Walter Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 305.

     [4] Karoline Lewis, “A Good Shepherd Perspective,” Dear Working Preacher, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5326.

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