Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts

We find in John 10 a picture of danger and violence.


Picture: Ceiling of S. Callisto catacomb, mid third century

Both Epistle and Gospel readings assigned to this Sunday present the popular picture of Our Lord as the Good Shepherd. So Easter II has almost become a feast in its own right, called “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

The symbol of the shepherd was rooted in the Old Testament. Both Moses and David were called to their respective ministries while serving as shepherds, and both became shepherds of the chosen people of God. But above all, God Himself was the shepherd of His people, as Psalm 23 teaches us.

John 10 is the great “Good Shepherd” chapter of the New Testament. The chapter in its entirety (we read only a few verses taken from a larger context) will lift us above the shallow sentimental notion of what a good shepherd is, as so frequently depicted in religious pictures. We find in John 10 a picture of danger and violence.

Whenever our blessed Lord uttered one of His “I AM” sayings (as in “I am the good shepherd), there was confrontation and controversy. When Jesus claimed to be the good shepherd, He was boldly suggesting that He Himself was a leader on a par with Moses and David. There is even a hint that He was revealing Himself as the One of whom David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” He was implying, moreover, that certain other shepherds were not so good.

The danger and violence in Jesus' discourse on His shepherd role come from three sources. First, the false shepherds (whom He called “hirelings”) who exploit and scatter the sheep. The previous chapter (John 9) describes the nefarious work of the Pharisees who persecute the blind man to whom Jesus restored sight. These religious leaders—spiritually blind themselves-- are bad shepherds, the very opposite of Jesus.

Then there are the wolves, who represent super-human and Satanic enemies, constantly preying on God's people. And thirdly, there are the false sheep, who are really wolves within the flock. These do not hear the shepherd's voice and they do not follow the shepherd. Even the genuine sheep are prone to dangerous behavior. As Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray.”

What makes the good shepherd good? This is no hard question, since Jesus told us rather plainly the answer: “the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” As an ordinary shepherd might become the victim of either thieves or wild animals, so Jesus became the Victim who died to save and protect His true sheep. God grant that we may be among that number. LKW


In its rendition of the Epistles and Gospels our Prayer Book generally uses the great translation of 1611 called the "Authorized Version" in England and the "King James Version" in the United States. But here and there the Prayer Book quietly corrects the old version. We have an instance of this in the final verse of today's Gospel. In the AV, this verse reads "there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." The Prayer Book, since 1928, changed one word and gives the reading, there shall be one flock, and one shepherd." What is the difference, what is at stake? Why is "flock" more accurate than "fold"?

The word "fold" has already occurred earlier in the same verse "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold." The Greek text clearly distinguishes "fold" (aulh) in verse from "flock" (poimnh). The AV translators were apparently influenced by St Jerome's Vulgate who employed the same Latin word (ovile) in both instances. But the great scholar F. F. Bruce pointed out that the mistake was inexcusable in both the Vulgate and AV, since the earlier Latin translation had gotten it right and so had William Tyndale. The correction made by the 1928 Prayer Book revisers was no new discovery, just better scholarship.

When our Lord spoke of a "sheepfold" (the term means an enclosed courtyard lacking a roof), He was referring to the covenant nation of Israel, set apart from the Gentiles, walled in and protected by the Law. The "other sheep" outside that enclosure are the Gentiles, shortly to be admitted to the covenant community. Just two chapters down, "certain Greeks" approach the disciples with the request "Sir, we would see Jesus." Jesus does not predict that the "other sheep" will be admitted to the old enclosed establishment of Israel. Instead, Jews and Gentiles will form a new flock which will follow the Shepherd and go in and out together, One Shepherd, one flock.

The flock, of course, is comprised of "the blessed company of all faithful people" who follow Christ and call upon Him as Lord and Saviour. This flock is precious to Christ, who (as the Epistle tells us) suffered for us, "who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree." But the flock is not the fold, and the fold is not the flock.

That confusion, which our Prayer Book so happily corrected, tempts us to exalt the Church as an institution over the faithful souls who belong to it. We have all known people who dearly love the Church but have no use for the people inside it. A lot of shallow ecumenical talk, which turns Our Lord's petition "that they may be one" into a silly cliche, seems obsessed with the sheepfold--the institutional Church-- but appears oblivious of the flock which the fold was supposed to protect. We all know of bishops who scatter their sheep in the name of Church unity.

That Greek word for "fold" is used only in John 10 as a metaphor for Israel. It is hardly a symbol for the Church at all. Its more common usage in the NT was to denote the courtyard of the high priest, where Caiaphas once called a meeting. LKW

1 comment:

Canon Tallis said...

Father Wells,

This was masterful. Just enlightening and beautiful. So very much to the point where we are now. But will we listen; will we learn?