Our life to live

Easter 4 – 2015

John 10:(1-10) 11-18

Marian Free

 

In the name of God, Shepherd, protector, liberator. Amen.

Most of us would, I think, agree that the Internet is a marvelous tool. That said, we cannot ignore the darker side of this form of mass communication. Just week I heard about a social media site on which Year 8 girls can post pictures of themselves wearing bikinis. Innocent enough you might think until you learn that the photo only stays on the site if enough other girls vote for it to stay. It makes you wonder what sort of arrogance would lead to someone setting up the site and what sort of insecurities would lead to twelve and thirteen year old girls exposing themselves to the sort of large-scale rejection that might follow. That, of course is only one of many sites. There is, in the United States at least, a site called “Revenge”. Men, who have persuaded girlfriends to send photos of themselves in various stages of undress, upload those photos on to the site when the relationship goes sour. The young women discover that they are recognised wherever they go and are mortified to realise that they whole world has seen them naked. Then there are those who use the internet to prey on young people with promises of love, but whose real intention is to use and abuse them.

The Internet is wonderful, but it can be a minefield for the vulnerable, the inexperienced and the naive. It offers fame and fortune but can be sordid and soul-destroying. It can provide a sense of belonging yet also be the source of the most awful social exclusion. People, like sheep, are not always discerning about whom they follow whether it be fellow teens, an over-bearing boyfriend, an employer who plays fast and loose with the law, a Hitler, or an Idi Amin. The human need for affirmation and approval is sufficiently strong that it is possible for some to ignore the small twinges of disquiet that alert them to the fact that all is not well – that they are being used, bullied or taken advantage of. When people are desperate to fit in, they do not always notice the warning signs. They take risks that may have disastrous consequences and they place their trust in those who are only interested in exploiting or taking advantage of them, of using them for their own gain or gratification. They follow people who in the end are not interested in the personal, emotional or social needs of those whom they ensnare but come – as do the thieves in today’s gospel, to steal, kill and destroy.

Sadly, some people are so deafened by the din of the world around them and so anxious to belong to that world that they are either unable or unwilling to listen to their own hearts. Instead of being true to themselves they follow those who offer false hopes and a false sense security. Instead of finding freedom and wholeness they discover that they are constrained and they remain unsatisfied, unfulfilled.

It is in contrast to the thieves, and robbers, (the hired hands, those who exploit), that Jesus describes himself as the “good shepherd.’ The good shepherd does not seek followers to use for his own nefarious means and he does not want to exploit those who follow him in order to achieve his own purposes. The good shepherd has no regard for his own needs, In fact, rather than demand anything of those who choose to follow, the good shepherd wants only what is the best for the sheep to the extent that the shepherd would lay down his life to ensure the well-being of the sheep. In the context of the verse that precedes today’s passage, the good shepherd has come so that the sheep may have life and have it abundantly. This is not a half-life in the shadow of the shepherd, but a life that is rich and full, in which every opportunity is provided for the sheep to achieve their own potential. In other words, the good shepherd does not entrap or limit, but liberates and encourages those who follow to be confident in themselves and to live their own lives.

The good shepherd is selfless – the sheep always come first. The good shepherd is also inclusive. No one has to behave or dress in a certain way to belong. To be part of this flock does not require compromise or a willingness to bend the rules in order to fit in. In fact, so far from being selective, the good shepherd is clear that there are other sheep who do not yet belong – those who live in fear, those who are lost and defenseless, those who are trapped in unhealthy ways of perceiving themselves, those who are enslaved to fads and fashions, those who are struggling to fit in and in so doing become what they are not. The good shepherd wants to bring these into the flock so that they too might “have life and have it abundantly”.

Hearing and responding to Jesus’ voice does not mean being bound by rigid rules or being forced to behave in particular ways. It does mean means hearing the shepherd above the cacophony and demands of the world, it means understanding that we can rise above the need or desire to conform to trends and fashions and it means having the courage to be our own selves knowing that we are so precious, that Jesus would rather give up his life than see us put upon or used,or be what we are not.

The good shepherd wants us to hear his voice, to draw us into his fold, not because he wants us to conform to certain ways of behaving, not because he wants full churches, not because he afraid that we will be condemned at the judgement, but purely and simply because he loves us. Jesus loves us unreservedly and unconditionally and longs for us to make decisions that will lead to our wholeness. Jesus wants all people to know that there is no need to conform to external, worldly measures. It doesn’t matter whether a person is beautiful or plain, clever or not so clever in the eyes of the world, in Jesus’ eyes they are unique and valued.

Thirteen year olds who know that they are precious and loved will not need to expose themselves to rejection, young women will know that their bodies are their own will not be coerced to share them in ways that make them uncomfortable, young men will not need to boast of their conquests in order to impress their mates. Those who follow the good shepherd will discover that the world and it values will lose its hold on them and they will know that their life is their own to live. They will know as Jesus knew that their life is theirs to give and to take up and that no one can take it from them.

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