Souls Need Other Souls: April 21, 2024

May 6, 2024

Year B, Easter 4                                John 10:11-18 and Psalm 23
This Sunday is often referred to as
Good Shepherd Sunday because of the imagery that we find in both the gospel
reading and the psalm.  Psalm 23 is one
of the most beloved psalms in the Book of Psalms.  I have planned many funerals over the years
and 90% of the time, the family will choose psalm 23. I have often wondered why.
Why that psalm? What is it about the image of the shepherd that brings people
such comfort?  Part of the choice comes
from the familiarity. For people who don’t know the psalms, they will gravitate
to what is most familiar. There is comfort in familiarity.  It’s the reason that so many of us have a
movie, a book, or a show that we return to again and again. Just knowing
something can make us feel better, even when we can’t articulate what it is
about that thing that makes it so comforting. 
Yet there must be a reason that this psalm and the image of Jesus as a
shepherd has become such a familiar and popular image.  Of course it’s more than just the shepherd
imagery.  It’s the words of the psalm.
many of you have a soul that needs reviving? 
How many have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, or any
valley of darkness?  How many are
tortured by wants and needs and would give anything not to be in want?  How many
long to rest and find a comfortable place to lie down? These are longings that
would have resonated with those who first heard this psalm thousands of years
ago and continue to resonate with so many of us.  The answer to these longings is found not in ourselves
or those around us, but in the Lord, who is our shepherd. But that is easier
said than done. Because I think we have lost our familiarity with God—with
any image of God.
                In our
Gospel reading, Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd, the one who lays
down his life for the sheep, the one who knows the sheep and is known by the
sheep.  Even here we can see how
important it is to Jesus to know and be known. 
He understands the importance of familiarity in both a savior and a
If you were to just read this
passage without looking at what comes before and after, one might assume that
he is speaking to his disciples or other followers…a crowd of people who are
lost and beleaguered…the same kind of people who need to hear the words of
Psalm 23.  No doubt whoever heard these
words did need them. But it wasn’t just his disciples. Jesus was also speaking
to people who were very critical of him and suspicious of his message.  In that crowd were the Pharisees, the
religious elite of the Jewish faith.  We
know they were there because they had been part of the previous conversation in
chapter 9.
before describing himself as a shepherd, Jesus had healed a blind man on the
Sabbath and the Pharisees were not happy that he was doing work on the Sabbath
as that was against their rules.   The
Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind, trying to figure out how
and why Jesus did what he did. They tried to get the man who could now see to
say that Jesus was not a man from God. 
The man refused and said: “Here is an astonishing
thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes… Never
since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person
born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’”
  The Pharisees didn’t like this answer and cast
the formerly blind man out of the community. 
He was no longer welcome.
When Jesus heard the man had been
cast out, he returned to find him, even though this would almost surely create another
confrontation with the Pharisees. 
However, Jesus knew that this man had already led his whole life
marginalized and ostracized and he didn’t want that to continue.  He had already given him his sight, but he wanted
him to know the source of the healing. 
The blind man had never actually seen Jesus because Jesus had made the
healing contingent on him washing in the pool of Siloam.  By the time he did that, Jesus had moved on.  By finding him again, Jesus not only brought
him back into the community that the Pharisees pushed him out of, Jesus gave
the man the opportunity to see him, to know him.
Jesus knew that physical healing
was incomplete if this man was still ostracized.  It’s not just that this man just could not
see before, when someone had a disability, it was assumed that they were being
punished for their sin or the sin of their parents.  So not only did this man have to live in a
world with no accommodation for someone who couldn’t see, he had to live with
people assuming his disability was actually a punishment from God.  Jesus knew this wasn’t true and he didn’t
want this man to suffer any more judgment or shaming than he already had.  Jesus understood how important it was to have
people belong to a community.
That is why he said in our reading
for today, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring
them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one
shepherd.”  He sought this formerly blind
man out and now in our reading for today, we hear him telling the Pharisees and
disciples that this was the kind of messiah he would be. He would be the
shepherd who would always be calling new people into the fold, who would call
the marginalized and cast out into the fold.
For so long the Christian faith was
about who was in and who was out.  Who
was saved and who was not. Who was a sinner and who was forgiven.  Yet Jesus wanted everyone to know him and
know his voice.  It was not about who
would be part of his club, it was about those who would hear his voice.  We have gotten better at welcoming people. We
have significantly lowered the barrier to entry for our churches.  But if we were to model ourselves off of
Jesus (which is what we are supposed to do), we would know that being welcoming
isn’t good enough.  When Jesus heard that
man was cast out, he went and found him. 
Because he wanted not just to be a familiar voice or a comforting
figure. He wanted to be his shepherd and his savior.   It
wasn’t enough to heal his body, he wanted to revive his soul.  Jesus understood that a soul needs other
Our world is full of people with
parched souls who still see Christianity as a private club that they are not
welcome to.  Since we don’t have Jesus in
the flesh searching for the lost and the weary, we have to be those
people.  We, who know the voice of Jesus,
must carry that voice out so that other souls can be restored and people can
know that there is a place where they are not merely welcome, but a place where
they can belong. 
You might think, oh I don’t know
the voice of Jesus well enough to introduce others to it.  And I understand that.  Even as a priest, there are times when I
think, who am I to share this message? How do I know I am saying the right
thing?  Am I even hearing God’s
voice?  Here’s what you can do.  You can reacquaint yourself with the voice of
God.  Take this gospel reading or this
psalm and read it every day.  Find a
verse and make it a mantra. The more you read it, the more you internalize it,
the more you will hear God’s voice and be able to share it with others.  People should not have to wait until there is
a funeral to be reminded of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  People should not have to wait for a tragedy
to hear about the God who wants them and all people to know that they deserve
to be part of something holy, something good and something that brings healing
and love. People should not have to wait because we have that beautiful