Biblical Words 
The risen Lord is the Good Shepherd, giving his life for his sheep and known to them by his Name.
The fourth Sunday of Easter season is the
Pastor’s Sunday. (“Pastor” is the
Latin word for shepherd.) The
Psalm reading is always “The Lord is my shepherd,” and the Gospel reading is
The reading from the Acts of the
Apostles is a later moment in the story of Peter and John’s healing of the lame
man in the
After the healing and Peter’s speech had caused a disturbance, the officials arrested Peter and John and held them over for a hearing the next day. The opening of the reading emphasizes the officials who conducted the inquisition: rulers, elders, and scribes. Specifically identified are members of the high priestly families of Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas, with two otherwise unknown members of their clan, John and Alexander.
It seems clear that the reciter of this narrative assembles here most of the officials who were involved in condemning Jesus.
Peter’s Spirit-inspired speech
focuses on the Name by which the healing was accomplished: the name of Jesus of
To witness to this resurrection, which is the cause of all the wonder and disturbance, is the whole task of the disciples in this stage of the sacred history. Peter goes on to cite the scripture (Psalms 118:22) that was fulfilled by the fantastic reversal produced by Jesus’ resurrection: the stone that “you” rejected has become the cornerstone.
This speech by Peter, unlike the earlier ones, does not conclude with an offer of forgiveness to the rulers. There is, however, a further declaration about the name of Jesus: “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (verse 12). An event has occurred which trumps all other religious pretenses on the human scene!
The tone of exclusiveness is beginning to appear here. It is clear in many places that the new salvation initiated by Jesus’ resurrection was for many peoples. That inclusiveness is not being denied here, but a firm condition is established: the salvation is available for those who call on the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
A movement that creates social groups soon acquires conditions for inclusion, such as avowing a specific Master’s name. And the Jesus movement, eventually to become many churches, begins with the Name.
The Psalm reading is the most famous psalm of trust in the Scriptures. It presents the Lord as the unfailing shepherd.
The speaker in the psalm can be
understood in many ways: as an ordinary individual, as a king needing
God’s care-taking, or as
Listen to it again, in the rendering (of the Hebrew text) of the New Jerusalem Bible translation.
And now the imagery shifts from the shepherd and the sheep to that of a magnificent lord hosting his faithful servant and keeping him secure from his enemies.
You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
[Note: the anointing in verse 5 is not related to the Anointed One, the Messiah. It is a different verb entirely, dashan, to refresh. The Greek. also, is not related to "christ."]
The Epistle reading
continues last week’s reading. It begins
with a declaration that links it directly to this week’s reading about the Good
Shepherd: “We know love by this, that he
laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another”
But short of giving up one’s life, what are the signs of mutual love within the community? The passage gives us one unqualified negative criterion, one sure way of identifying a failure of love.
How does [can] God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? (verse 17).
Possession of the world’s goods is a trust that God provides to us. Our good fortune is the means God provides for assisting the very needy. The brother or sister in need is our responsibility, even to the extent of laying down one’s own life.
The following verses (19-22) speak of our “hearts” condemning or reassuring us, which is to say of having a conscience, with the needy around us as its litmus test.
Near its end, this passage too speaks of the name of Jesus Christ as the essential requirement – “commandment” – for those who mutually abide in the Lord: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (verses 23-24).
As this writer understands the life of this “fellowship” (koinonia, see 1:3), only through Jesus’ name does true love for each other become possible – such love as supplies the needs of brothers and sisters.
Only in this name does the mutual abiding of Lord and servant in each other become possible.
The Gospel reading is the central portion of the Good Shepherd chapter in the Gospel According to John. The Good Shepherd is committed to the sheep with a completeness not found in a hired worker. He lays down his life for the sheep.
On a simple level, this means an owner-shepherd risks his life against wild animals, thieves, and dangerous precipices to protect his sheep. In this Gospel, as the latter part of the passage (verses 17-18) indicates, it refers to Jesus laying down his life in the crucifixion.
Jesus also says that he can “take it up again,” that is, take up his life again by means of the resurrection. The Good Shepherd has power over life and death, and he is directed by God (“I have received this command from my Father”) to exercise this power on behalf of the sheep. These sheep too will not be lost or be in want.
There is a mutuality of knowing between the Shepherd and the sheep. “I know my own and my own know me…” Here the meaning of the sheep knowing the Shepherd is to know Jesus’ name, to know how to call on the Shepherd correctly and be saved from harm.
This mutual knowledge of Shepherd and sheep leads to a somewhat strange statement – about other sheep. The Shepherd says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (verse 16).
This is a reference to non-Judean peoples who will become sheep of this Shepherd, though in another fold. Those nations (“gentiles”) will be brought in, and they will listen to his voice. The outcome of this will be a higher unity of all believers: “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”