In order to understand the theology in our passage from John this morning, we have to take a look at the very beginning of his gospel. Chapter 1 verses 10-13:
“He (Jesus) was in the world and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to those who are his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
He was in the world and the world did not know him. With that in mind, I want us to go back, way back to first century Palestine and imagine Jesus—the man—the teacher—the revolutionary mystic who said and taught people things that would eventually get him killed. The real guy who was Spirit-filled confronting the culture and power of his day so that he might Save people by reconciling them to God.
In John 10:11 he says “I am the good shepherd”—it is Jesus that will care for them and us, that will lead us into salvation---how did this first century Palestinian that was about to die a criminal’s death shepherd the people? By fundamentally disturbing the status-quo—the status-quo out there and in here (point to head). He pointed out that business as usual gave them and us—the mess we find in the world—because, according to Jesus, business as usual is estrangement from God. Jesus is not shepherding us into comfortable, successful lives, he is not asking us to be well-adjusted to the world—because as we just heard, the world did not know him. Jesus is shepherding us out of the status-quo, out of our estranged state and into the kind of relationship with God that he had.
Humans, like sheep, move in groups, in flocks. Humans, like sheep, are dominated by unconscious instinctual needs. And, we both tend to play follow the leader rather easily. By disturbing the status-quo Jesus is trying to wake us up from this unconscious tendency to follow the flock. Think of the effects of this herd behavior---advertising rules our consumerist culture. New cars, new homes, the best schools that cost way too much—they appeal to our unconscious instinctual needs for security and power and we end up playing follow the leaders. We follow patterns that somebody else designed and laid down for us. And once we’re in those social, political, moral, or religious patterns we follow along. The good shepherd is trying to shake us out of those old patterns that the flock follows and into New Life in God. The Good shepherd is trying to lead us out of the world that is the old pattern. According to Jesus this requires a new birth. Remember, in the beginning of the gospel we heard that, if we receive him, we will be people that are born of God, not the flesh. The flesh is code for the old self—the conditioned self that follows the flock.
In the church we are all called to be good shepherds. There is a word from Buddhism that is useful here—that word is Bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is a person who has gotten a taste of liberation from the old self—gotten a taste of what Christians call freedom in Christ. And this person now dedicates his or her life to helping others wake up from the old self that follows the flock unconsciously. This happens organically, for once we get a taste of freedom, freedom in Christ, we want to share it with the world. It’s like addicts getting sober, they start telling others how God is working their life. If you find an oasis, you go back into the desert to help others…
Just as Jesus laid down his life for us—we are called to lay down our old life so that we might help others wake up. We are called to lay down our old self so that we might help others experience freedom in Christ, freedom from the self that blindly follows; freedom from the self that is unconsciously driven by our need for security within the flock.
We are called to be Bodhisattvas; we are all called to be good shepherds. Going out and trying to impose our ideas and our religion on people can end badly. We must face the fact—exclusively Christian language in a pluralistic world can be divisive. And, just as Jesus said, the church is about unity—not division. But, if we live changed lives—we change the world. If we are a light, we will shine in the darkness. Transformation, change, living a less self-centered life, these are true signs of a good shepherd—not religious imposition and manipulation.
Christians are not called to be popular. Jesus was not a mega-church leader---he was a mini-church leader that challenged people to wake up. Christians are called to be changed! If people say, hey, I noticed you’ve changed—you’re not the same—something is different with you—if we’re outside of the old pattern—if we’re no longer judging people according to our old pattern---if we’re no longer blindly following the flock, if we’re helping someone experience freedom, if we’re reconciling the world to God, then, we are good shepherds.