Pruning Time

John 15:1-8
(Fifth Sunday of Easter)

My friends, Chuck and Mary, some years ago turned a Henry County, Kentucky, tobacco farm into a vineyard and winery. They grow hay, keep a large vegetable garden and busy themselves with other crops, but wine is the farm’s major product. Recently, my wife and I drove down to visit. The two of us talked with Mary and her mother in a shady spot near the old dairy shed, but Chuck was busy pruning vines. Sweaty and dirty, he called to us from a distance, but there wasn’t time to stop and chat.

Mary told how she used to help Chuck with the pruning, but Chuck’s a perfectionist and prefers to do it alone, his way. Cutting the vine in the right places is an exacting, necessary task. Unpruned, vines grow in wild, unruly ways, exploding with heavy new branches and leaf cascades, but little fruit. Read more

The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23; 1 John 3:1-24; John 10:11-18
(Fourth Sunday of Easter)

One problem with the many references to sheep in the Bible is that so few of us have any real contact with these animals. The metaphor is simply lost on us. What does it mean to be compared to sheep? The little we’ve heard or read about them—that they’re not particularly bright—does not endear us to the metaphor.

But here’s the thing about Good Shepherd Sunday: it’s not about sheep at all. It is about a shepherd—the “Good Shepherd”—but even that designation is charged with meanings that can be lost on us.

“I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

The life of a shepherd was anything but dreamy or picturesque. Taking care of sheep was dangerous, difficult, tedious work. Shepherds were, as one commentator has said, “rough around the edges, spending time in the fields rather than in polite society. For Jesus to say, ‘I am the good shepherd,’would have been an affront to the religious elite. The claim had an edge to it. A modern-day equivalent might be for Jesus to say, ‘I am the good migrant worker.’”* Read more

Jesus, Gates, and Sheep

sheep walking through a gateIn preparation for this year’s Triduum, the three solemn days leading into Easter, those in my parish chosen to proclaim scripture were expected to attend at least one group practice session. In that sense, at least, my parish takes “performing the Word” seriously. We received our texts well in advance in order to prepare, and our practice consisted of reading aloud while a woman from the parish, well known for her attentive, moving readings, offered helpful suggestions. One gentleman read a brief excerpt from John 14, including the familiar passage, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Upon saying these words, our normally laconic coach interrupted, saying, “That’s something I don’t believe by the way. I know Buddhists and Hindus who are far holier than most Christians.” Read more

Suffering and Abundance

an abstract picture of Christ“When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).

Any time sheep are mentioned in the Bible people sometimes go a little soft in the head, inflicting a nursery-rhyme cuteness on stories and images that often have a political, subversive edge. This Sunday’s passage from John’s gospel should give us pause if we are tempted toward such silliness. The text is cryptic, even a little caustic, and it’s not at all about sheep, but about deceivers who pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting. Read more