Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Thoughts on Easter 3: Sheep in the Lord's House . . . Are We Sure?

"What happens to the sheep who has the Lord as its Shepherd is that once it has been led from green pastures through dark valleys, it is guided, eventually, up to the house of the Lord. And we all know why sheep go to the house of the Lord. Now it might be a sheep's highest ambition to end up as a holocaust on the sacrificial altar rather than lamb chops in the butcher's shop. But nothing like that is in the sheep's mind when it pronounces 'the Lord is my Shepherd'" (D.J.A Clines, "Varieties of Textual Indeterminacy," Semeia, 71:1995, p.19).
When we think of the Lord as our Shepherd, when we imagine Jesus as the Good Shepherd, it's almost a universally good and comforting thought. But should it be? Only if it is the Shepherd who puts on sheep's clothing to catch the wolf seeking to devour the flock.

But he does that willingly. He doesn't have to. He chooses to do it. He wants to do it. He does it so that He can protect and reclaim what is rightfully His. They are His sheep. They are His fold. They belong to Him. But what is His is in jeopardy. Thus, the Good Shepherd takes back what is His so that His good name and reputation aren't tarnished. He does it not because of them, but because of Who He is. They aren't just sheep. They are His sheep. To do otherwise is not to be the Lord. What is at stake is the Lord's holy Name, His reputation. "It is not for your sake, O Israel, that I am about to do this, but for the sake of my holy name" (Ezek 34:36).

The Lord takes back His flock as its rightful owner from the hired hands because the hired hands have misappropriated the Lord's property. The bad shepherds are the kings of Judah, who led the people astray through their incompetence and greed, for polluting the house of the Lord with idols and injustice (Ezek 22:1-12).

Thus, God takes back His property. He intervenes to gather all those scattered back together in His fold under His care. "I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them for all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Ezek 34:12).

The Good Shepherd discourse takes place just after the controversy over who is Abraham's offspring during the Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrates God gathering His people to Himself of the rededication of the Temple after Exile (John 7-8). But it also follows the controversy surrounding the healing of the man born blind and his excommunication from the synagogue, a clear usurpation of authority by the Pharisees (John 9). Taken together, this makes a perfect place to speak of the rescue of His people from the places to which they have been scattered (see also Gen 11) from those who have misappropriated the Lord's property for their own gain. (For the Pharisees, it is the law of Moses. What is it for us?)

So, in order to call them back, He laid down His life. For when He was lifted up from the earth, when the sun had failed and darkness covered the land, He drew all to Himself (John 12:32; Matt 27:45). The scattered are back together. There is one Shepherd. He became the Lamb of God so that there would be one flock gathered together in Him and under Him.

And so the sheep are bought with a price. They are not their own. They belong to the Lord. And He will  shepherd them according to and for the sake of His holy Name. It's who He is.