"Healthy Shepherding," by Pastor Fred
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
John, we know, uses a lot of shepherd and sheep metaphors in his gospel. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Lamb of God. And here, Jesus is the gate to the sheepfold.
Psalm 23, gets right to the point. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
One of the earliest artistic renderings of Jesus, is, Jesus as the Shepherd, found in the catacombs. It’s the picture of Jesus with the lamb around his shoulders. So, almost from the beginning, Jesus is known as the Good Shepherd, a descendant of David the shepherd boy, and our ultimate protector and savior – the healer of our every ill.
And that’s what I want to talk with you about today – Jesus as our healer. Jesus as our healthcare provider. For the word for health, comes from the Greek word sotor, or Savior, and soteria, or salvation, meaning healing and wholeness, and also one who redeems, restores, sets free, and delivers from.
So when Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; … Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture,” Jesus is talking about protecting them from the false shepherds, and offering them the wholeness of salvation – a healing for all their oppressions and illnesses.
They could go inside the gate and be safe. But what’s more, they could – in their new found health and wholeness in Jesus – go out and find safe pasture. Just as in Psalm 23: 2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures, and leads me beside still waters. 3You restore my soul, O Lord, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
ELCA Pastor, Samuel Cruz says, “In Jesus’ day, those [elites] who could afford good healthcare and medicine, were not happy when the marginalized received good healthcare and medicine, from Jesus.” We have thieves and bandits today, just like they did back then, and there is always a struggle for who is in control of healthcare.
Jesus was nothing if not a healer in his ministry. A quick search, in Matthew’s gospel alone, reveals how universal and inclusive his appeal, as healer and bringer of salvation, was.
In Matthew 8.3-13
3He stretched out his hand and touched [the man with leprosy], saying, …Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy* was cleansed.
And in the very next verse:
5 When [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.’ 7And [Jesus] said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ 8The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed… 10When Jesus heard him, he was amazed …13And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.
In Mt. Chapter 14;
34 When [Jesus and the disciples] had crossed over [Lake Galilee], they came to land at Gennesaret. 35After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
And in the very next chapter, (Mt. 15):
30Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, 31so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Every healthcare system is a reflection of its morals and beliefs. How a society treats its sick and elderly, says everything about its values. And the systems of healing, are at the same time, all about who gets healed, and who’s worth saving. Even before the pandemic, our American healthcare was really, just a triage system of care.
Jesus preached and lived his healthcare values, when he made healing the sick, the lame, the rejected and the dying, central to his vision of the dawning kingdom of God, as he journeyed to Jerusalem, and toward his own suffering and death. Fundamental to his message, was that, Healthcare was a human right; salvation is a gift from God; and there are always opposing systems and powers to such a belief, which he confronted and revealed. In fact, his healings and exorcisms have been called, enacted parables, because of how they demonstrably reveal the life-giving power of the kingdom of God, in the presence of our enemies – as Psalm 23 says.
When it comes to people’s health, Jesus seems to be saying, you don’t cut corners, and you don’t ration care! You raise-up those who are forgotten. You include those who are left out. You heal everyone, rich and poor. Jesus’ health plan was universal, a gift of salvation and redemption for all.
On the other hand, public health scientist, Dr. Edgar Rivera Colón, painted a stark picture of our current system in America. “The deaths that we're seeing today [in this pandemic] are directly related to the model of health care that's based upon just-in-time production. You have as little inventory as you can and you cut costs as much as you can,” Colón said. But, “You can't do that with healthcare without killing people. Throughout the last 40 years,” he says, “hospital beds have been cut, healthcare has been privatized more in this country, health care workers have been treated poorly. Very simply, [the American system] of healthcare [is] kill[ing] people.”
Jesus’ system is – Everyone in, no one out! Jesus is the gate-keeper. He invites all to come into his sheep-pen to find safety and protection. He heals us, and equips us to live, his life – a life of deep faith and spirituality, a life of active non-violence and speaking truth to the powers of evil, so that we can go out into green pastures as the people of God, knowing that baptized in Christ Jesus, we’ve already been made as dead as we ever can be, and so, we’re un-afraid to live in this world, as examples of love, healing, and wholeness.
Jesus our Good Shepherd, protects and heals us, leads us beside still waters and guides us into pathways of justice and righteousness, all our days.
We are, locked-in, the sheep-pen of our homes now, in this pandemic. But we also have the Good Shepherd by our side, deepening our faith as the baptized people of God, to make us ready to go out into a ‘new normal’ – to embrace our good news message, and live it fully and confidently for the sake of the world – including, for a universal healthcare, that Jesus lived and revealed to all, in his saving love and grace, as God’s anointed one.
Jesus is our gate, watching over our coming in and our going out – healing us, redeeming us, restoring us, and bringing us salvation.