1 John 3:16-24
16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
I am the younger one of two brothers.
We grew up in an old house with high ceilings, which meant that the stairs were long and relatively steep, 18 steps to the second floor and 16 steps to the third.
One day my brother and I were on the second floor of our house and he had got a cardboard box from somewhere, and he had this brilliant idea of using the cardboard box as a vehicle to ride down the stairs. Perhaps he was nine and I was five. And I thought that it sounded like a lot of fun. He said, “You go first, I will go second.” And off I went.
God looked after me because I made it to the bottom of the stairs unscathed right to the place where my mother was standing, talking to a neighbour. My brother never go to go but he got to see me do it.
This is a typical older sibling – younger sibling story, usually the older one being the instigator. That too is part of growing up and discovering what one can do, namely, influence others.
I remember when one of the kids in our old neighbourhood talked our eldest out of a coveted Pokemon card.
Being able to influence others is one of the things children discover as they grow older. It’s an awareness of power, not unlike other skills kids learn. And it works in different ways. It’s not only about instigating younger siblings to do silly and perhaps dangerous things, it’s also about sharing expertise, lending an ear, or telling the bullies to leave your little brother alone. It is all those things.
It is a delicate thing to discover what powers one has and what to do with them, especially when we are young, but really at any age which is why it’s been said that the sign of character is to do the right thing when no one is looking.
In chapter 10 of John’s Gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. This is not only alluding to cuddly and perhaps smelly and not so bright sheep and the profession of shepherding but also to the history and the kings of Israel who were often likened to shepherds.
Perhaps Samuel’s warning against kingship rings in our ears, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’ (1Sam 8)
In other words, if you choose to have kings, Samuel said, you will re-create the Egypt you left.
The verse that strikes a particular chord in the reading from 1 Samuel is verse 11, “he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots.” Your children will fight the king’s wars and many of you will have to bury your children. That is Samuel’s warning.
Jesus is a different shepherd. He is not like the kings of Israel or of any other nations. He is the shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. The king who sacrifices his life for the people. This shepherd is the Prince of Peace, not the lord of war.
Some of you will know John 3:16 by heart. God so love the world that God gave God’s only son. In the first letter of John 3:16 we learn what God’s self-giving means for those who follow Jesus, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
The Good Shepherd is the Prince of Peace. This is the gift to the world and to the cosmos.
That we may also give ourselves away is not only command but also gift to us. To use our power and privilege not for us but for others is freeing.
Jesus says, 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12)
Thanks be to God.