Good Shepherd Sunday: Jesus used this figure of speech

Updated: Feb 5

Note: I write this as an Episcopalian that is now denied physical access to the properties owned by the Episcopal Church [of the United States], in my Diocese.  Please be comforted to know that Episcopalians are not alone in their lack of shepherding at this time, as all denominations of Christianity can be substituted in this article at every point I refer to “Episcopalian” or variations of that word.


The Fourth Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Central in the readings is Psalm 23, which most Christians have memorized. It begins with “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Added to that old favorite is a reading from 1 Peter, which ends with the Apostle saying, “For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Then, standing tall as the Gospel reading from John is his recounting Jesus saying things like “I am the gate for the sheep” and “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” Therefore, calling this day of readings “Good Shepherd Sunday” fits snugly. The fly in the ointment is the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, where nary a word about sheep or shepherds can be found. What do you think the odds are that a priest, pastor, preacher, or minister will utter a word about that reading? They are probably not very favorable. The verse that is the most important of all is John’s verse six.  There he remembered: “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”  John wrote in the third person about Pharisees – “them” and “they.”  The Greek word written that has been translated by the New International Version (NIV) English text as “figure of speech” is “paroimian.”  That word in usage also means “a cryptic saying, an allegory; a proverb, figurative discourse.” (Strong’s)  It can even be defined as “a parable.” Jesus often spoke in this manner to Pharisees.


What John wrote says that it was Pharisees upon whom Jesus was using his allegory of sheep, shepherds, gates, and sheepfolds.  When Jesus spoke in this metaphoric way, it was also flying well over the heads of his disciples, such that Scripture tells of them coming to Jesus afterwards, asking for clarification.  Of course, the beauty of Scripture is it always fits like a glove whenever it is read – past, present, and future. 


So, the point of this reading is to see yourself as someone who struggles to grasp the symbolism here.  Jesus was teaching by using figures of speech, as John was recalling, and this verse was written because God knows the ones receiving the lesson are anyone who is listening and not understanding. That is not just long dead Pharisees, who stood before Jesus in the Temple.  That, my friends, means you, as you sit in a pew or stand in an aisle reading these words aloud.  That is why John 10:6 is so important.  It is because you are not the only ones who have failed to understand Scripture.


They do dress up well


Simply by understanding how “Good Shepherd Sunday” is allegory and not the reality of sheep and shepherds (although sheep and shepherds are real), we should realize that figures of speech use understandable words that are used in nebulous ways.  Chances are high that anyone who has heard this group of readings before [Good Shepherd Sunday, Year A], totally missed the point.


You see, the Pharisees ALL saw themselves as shepherds to the flocks of Jews in and around Jerusalem – Judea and Galilee.  Minimally, they owned all the sheepfolds therein, so they paid all the gatekeepers that were placed in the various synagogues.  Still, none of them saw any reason to be “good” shepherds.  After all, the Jews were as mindless as sheep; so none of them had a clue what Jesus was saying about being a gate.


Today, in many churches across the land, there is equally a high chance that the person standing tall and talking about shepherds and sheep is not so clear about all these twists and turns of allegory.  Just like the Pharisees Jesus spoke to, I’m sure John would listen to a few Good Shepherd Sunday sermons and wisely conclude, “they did not understand.” It all boomerangs back to the reading from Acts, which everyone loves to ignore because there are no fluffy Ovis aries that match the theme of this Sunday. That makes the reading from Acts be the one that must be understood first, before one can wander out to the sheepfold, the green pastures and still waters.  Think of this reading as “the black sheep” of the flock. The reading from Acts begins with a paraphrased translation that tries to adjust to what had previously been written, but is not part of this reading today. The Episcopal Lectionary implies Acts 2:42 says, “Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostle’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”


Because it has been paraphrased and stated like New International people like to listen to words from Scripture, they took some liberties.  That means this verse needs to be cleaned up.  The reason is simple: Because Episcopalian sheep hear many ‘catch words’ from their shepherds, they visualize the scene wrongly, or differently than was intended by Luke (presumed to be the writer of Acts). First, an Episcopalian hears the word “baptized” and drifts off into remembrances of some grandchild being sprinkled with water in the church. “Aaahh wasn’t it a lovely ceremony?” they pine, missing the point.


The word “ebaptisthēsan” was part of the Acts reading for the Third Sunday of Easter (last week).  The word means “were baptized,” and it was used in the instant conversion of three thousand Jewish pilgrims on Pentecost.  It was they who “were baptized” by the Holy Spirit and became Apostles that very day, having received the Spirit from the Apostles who spoke on Pentecost Sunday. Thus, the first verse distracts a listener from realizing the reading is about those three thousand new Apostles, none of whom were sprinkled with water. The Greek of John’s verse forty-two [the first verse of Acts 2:42-47] states: “Ēsan de proskarterountes tē didachē tōn apostolōn  , kai tē koinōnia  ,  tē klasei tou artou  , kai tais proseuchais .” Before this should be translated [literally] it should be noticed how I have presented it so it clearly breaks into four segments of words. Each segment is separated by a comma mark, which is an indication of pause. Pause marked in Scripture is God speaking through the writer, symbolizing to the reader: “Think about what was just read.” Those comma marks then mark off four statements that need deep reflection. Another thing to note is the writing of the Greek word “kai.” The word clearly translates as meaning “and,” but think about what the intent of a comma mark is. A comma is an abbreviated way of saying “and,” so writing “, and” is poor writing. It is like street talk, where a high school drop-out likes to repeat things like “yo” and “you know” and “its like this.”  “You know what I mean?”


You know what I’m talking about, like you know?


God is not a street talker. God tells His writers to purposefully write everything; so “kai,” as a separate mark following a comma marking pause, says, “This is important, so pay attention.” With all that said, verse 42 of John’s tenth chapter literally translates into English to say: “They were now steadily continuing the teaching the apostles ,  [pause] and [pay attention] the fellowship in the spiri,  [pause] the breaking the bread ,  [pause] and [pay attention] the prayers to God .” Seeing that one verse written in that manner is the intent, but then experiencing a lay reader say, “Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostle’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayer,” falls short of that mark.  The Episcopalian listeners hear “baptized apostles teaching breaking of the bread and prayers.”


I’m Catholic, but …


Wow. That sums up any and all Episcopalian services: Baptized [by water] Christians listening to priests give sermons before snapping a large wafer in half and reading some prayers from a book.” That is why John wrote, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”  That is a prophecy that never goes out of style.  That is why understanding that is so important.


To read Acts 2:42 that poorly and then say nothing that corrects a misstatement is being a Pharisee.  It certainly is not being an Apostle. Verse forty-two of Acts says three thousand Jewish pilgrims [the intent of “They were”] went from knowing nothing about the deep meaning of the Scripture in the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets to “steadily continuing the teaching.”


The “teaching” [“didachē”] means they learned what they taught by listening continuously to the Word of God flowing past their lips, explaining that meaning to others. They continued steadily to do as Peter and the other eleven had done, meaning they all had  been baptized by the Holy Spirit.  It means everyone pointed out in Acts 2 “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”


[As a side note: “other tongues” certainly means “foreign languages,” but it equally means “different speech.”  Apostles began to explain Scripture differently, in fresh new ways that made the hearts of Jews open wide to God.  Notice how I just demonstrated with verse 42, breaking it down into four statements?  That is differently stating what the NIV translation says.] That means the three thousand became Apostles, just as Jesus’ disciples had been so affected. All those people changed on Pentecost Sunday and all because of the flow of the Holy Spirit clearing up Scripture so well that hearts were set on fire with devotion to God. The second statement of verse forty-two, beginning with “and” [pay attention], focuses on “fellowship” [“koinōnia”]. That Greek word translates as “(a) contributory help, participation, (b) sharing in, communion, (c) spiritual fellowship, a fellowship in the spirit.” (Strong’s)

Episcopalians hear the word “fellowship” and think about sitting around a table sharing a doughnut and remembering the good ole days.  That [again] misses the point entirely.

According to Strong’s:  “koinōnia literally means partnership.” That is an important point to realize [“kai”]; and the comma mark says to pause and reflect on that awareness.


Marriage is a partnership. Marriage is when two become one.


Following the first segment ending with “apostles,” that becomes imperative to understand as “about three thousand apostles” (which included the twelve disciples of Jesus), were all changed by the Holy Spirit.  They were no longer alone in not understanding Scripture, as they were suddenly in a “fellowship.”  Certainly, that can translate to a ‘brotherhood’, when the seeds of Christianity took root; but they were changed through a “partnership” with God, unlike the relationship they knew prior.


Now, God did not intend for Luke to imply that pilgrims, who all spoke different native languages, meaning they all lived in faraway places they would soon return to, all gathered in the room with the twelve and sat around tables eating doughnuts and talking about old times. They steadfastly continued the teaching of Scripture that came to them via the Holy Spirit, as each had entered into a fellowship in the spirit. That literally means each, individually, entered into a partnership with Jesus Christ. They all let go of their Self-egos and stepped back, allowing God to rule their hearts and Jesus Christ to become the king of their every thought. That then leads to the third segment of words in verse forty-two, which says “breaking the bread.”


Now, I’ve said it before, but I will say it again: The Jews are just like Americans in their love of fresh loaf bread, risen with yeast. God told Moses and Aaron to tell the Israelites in Egypt to clean their houses out of yeast and go a week without leavening in their bread. Then, after they escaped Egypt, God told Moses to tell the Israelites to do the same thing every year, for eternity. By the end of eight days, eating crackers and bitter herbs and lamb bones, the Jews had all lost ten pounds.


Keep in mind that Acts 2:42 takes place on the Fiftieth Day [Pentecost] after the Passover began. That means it was well after the days of flatbread. So, if a Christian ever invites a Jewish couple or family over for dinner, for God’s sake DO NOT SERVE THEM MATZAH!


Feel the yeast!


This, again, is like why God had John write, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”


Episcopalians hear the words “breaking of the bread” and think of going to the altar rail, kneeling, cupping their hands and taking a piece of ceremonial matzah or an industrial quarter-size wafer, which they pop in their mouths, chew and chase with a sip of red wine. That is missing the point. It is not the intent of what Luke’s words say. Consider the Holy Bible to be the “bread of heaven,” which is divine food for thought that we all need. The Holy Bible should be where one takes his or her daily spiritual bread. You have to figuratively eat the words, chew them up and swallow them. You need to digest them so they nourish your soul … not your body.  This makes the Word of God be allegory that is like physical bread.  Physical bread yields daily life, but Spiritual bread yields eternal life. 


Still, you do not eat the whole Holy Bible in one sitting. You break it into pieces: Books; chapters; and, verses. That is what the Episcopal Lectionary schedule is: It is “breaking the bread.”  The Scriptural readings are like little unleavened pieces of bread that is served to the people (like Peter and the eleven did for three thousand), but they have added the leavening of God so it is received like piping hot, freshly risen bread.


Broken into loaves [Books] that are broken into slices [chapters].


Following segment two ending with “fellowship (in the spirit),” the “breaking the bread” is then due to the “partnership” an Apostle has with God. The partnership is the resurrection of the Holy Soul of Jesus, who takes possession of a body of flesh born with a soul of life breath.  That union means the soul has been saved. Together, in one body of flesh, Jesus leads the Apostle to find all the answers to all the questions one has about Scripture. Answers build strong faith. Having a wealth of Spiritual Wisdom made available makes one grow strong in service and commitment to God the Father. The final segment of verse forty-two then explains how the flatbread of Scripture rises to become living bread. Jesus is the yeast that gives rise to unleavened bread.  God demanded “No yeast!” because God would send His Son to give rise to purposefully written flat words.  It is then importantly [“kai”] realized that “breaking the bread” comes through conversations with God – prayer.


The Greek word “proseuchais” is rooted in “proseuché,” meaning “properly, exchange of wishes.” This means “prayer,” for one who has not yet married God and borne his Son Jesus within his or her flesh, is a one-way street. One talks but cannot hear the voice of God answering one’s prayers, as an exchange of wishes. However, when married to God in a union that cannot be torn asunder, prayer becomes a two-way street of commitment.


When one wishes to know the meaning of God’s Word, then God will grant that wish. However, for granting a wish, God asks for a return favor. That return favor is servitude as an Apostle, who God sends out to preach the meaning of the Word.  It means sharing the love of God [love = TRUTH] so the hearts of others will be likewise touched and the “steadfast continuing” keeps going. Simply by understanding this one verse from Acts 2 makes one be capable of understanding the allegory Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about being a gate for sheep. It makes one capable of understanding that “The Lord is my shepherd” speaks of that “partnership” [aka “fellowship”] of the soul of Jesus being merged with the soul of a former sinner.


When God is one’s husband [regardless of one’s human gender] then God is one’s shepherd and one is God’s sheep. This is a match truly made in Heaven.  One becomes God’s Lamb, by the resurrection of His Son within one’s being. When David wrote his song of praise [Psalm 23], he had married God and had become His wife. Everything David sang of can be everyone’s who marries God; meaning Psalm 23 never grows old. When the Epistle is read, just as with every Epistle read, Peter was not writing like some ordinary Joe or Mary. Every Epistle in the New Testament was written by Jesus, by bodies of flesh that had different names. Again, few sermons are preached on the true meaning of the Epistles because (like John wrote) “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”


If you thought verse 42 was overkill because I broke that bread down morsel by morsel, bite by bite, then I have news for you.  Peter, Paul, James, and John et al are speaking in Divine Language, not Episcopalianism. I have written four thousand words on one reading from one of Paul’s epistles.  To understand an Apostle, one has to be an Apostle or want very badly to be one, because it demands time and effort discerning the message.  It is like a coded message sent by spies during a war that requires a system for decoding its true meaning.  The decoding system for the Holy Bible (including the Epistles) is God’s Holy Spirit. Simply by Peter writing “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth,” Episcopalians will not be able to grasp where that came from or what the surrounding context to those words is. [Hint: Isaiah.]


Episcopalians do not memorize the Holy Bible. They come and sit in a pew and let someone read parts of it to them. Few actually take the time to go to church early, for the intent to attend Bible Studies. Few go home and read the Holy Bible. They do not like flatbread served anywhere other than church. Episcopalians are, therefore, just like the Pharisees who did not like Jesus speaking to them in allegory. Episcopalians do lean forward and smile when they hear a lay reader say, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”


Episcopalians think Peter wrote that as a promise to them. While it is a promise that can be had by all, Peter wrote his epistle to others who were just like those three thousand who had been filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday and became Apostles that day, steadily continuing to teach the meaning of the Word to seekers.  Peter wrote to Apostles in the Holy Spirit, not Episcopalians forever in pews. Some proudly say, “I am a cradle to grave Episcopalian.”


Without one becoming a true Christian, the grave will not be a good place to go.


That becomes the prophecy of Peter, when he wrote, “If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that?”


The question asks, “If God judges one for being a lazy student, one who never learned the truth of the religion one professed to believe in and failed most tests of one’s faith in God, always repeating children’s church in adult clothes, thinking longevity and endurance is all that matters, then what must be the truth of God’s Judgment?”  Seems like a beating might be due punishment.


So, at the end of your life [death’s grave] to hear God say, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws,” because one never got around to marrying God, then why would God give you entrance into eternal salvation?


Being a ‘tease’ to God – a ‘flirt’ – is not the true commitment demanded by marriage to God.  God wants you – He loves you – but all He can do is propose marriage.  To say “yes” means a change of lifestyle AND a change of name.  In the name of God is not to be taken sitting down. Peter wrote to other Apostles who knew the pains of suffering to do God’s work. Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross to release his Holy Soul so God could send it into countless seekers whose hearts were open for the Lord to fill them with His love. Consummating a marriage to God means giving birth to His Son within one’s body of flesh.  Only by joining with God and bearing the cross of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ can one also be “free from sins” and “live for righteousness.”


A path of righteousness is not one chosen from a travel brochure, where one says to the new hubby, “Oh, honey, I don’t want to go there.  I hate those people.  Let’s go there.  I love their clothes and food!”  A path of righteousness, where one becomes freed of one’s past sins, is painful.  One becomes Jesus resurrected and has to continuously face Pharisees who want to stone one to death.  The love of God makes that bearable.  When Peter wrote, “For you were going astray like sheep,” he was making a blanket statement that covers every set of ears in a church that has not been reborn as Jesus Christ, the Son of God [regardless of one’s human gender].  Hear that as saying, “YOU are going astray … sheep.”


When Peter continued, he began with the word of exception “but” [from the Greek “alla”], which was noting the exceptions that were the Apostles he wrote to. It was them [then and now, whenever Apostles have been in the name of Jesus Christ] to whom he said, “now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Without that return, one is still a lost sheep.  Jesus is what an apostle has returned, so one is no longer a lost sheep.  Jesus promised he would return and Jesus has returned countless times since he ascended … in apostles.  Jesus is the shepherd and guardian of all apostles’ souls, who know and follow his voice.  Jesus is the gate to Heaven that apostles use to gain entrance into eternal life. The Pharisees were lost sheep. That is why Episcopalians need to stop thinking they are Jesus’s disciples, silently watching him confront evildoers.  One must realize Jesus is speaking to Episcopalians and Episcopalians need to listen. Sunday after Sunday, sitting on a hard pew, without going out into the world doing God’s work – as His Son – means, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”


This is why this Good Shepherd Sunday make it important to hear Jesus say, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”


Prior to that he had said, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.”


Then he said, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” The gate is the entrance into Heaven. The gate is the proverbial Pearly Gate. That gate is Jesus. Heaven has no gate other than God’s Son.  You cannot enter into Heaven unless you are Jesus.  


Thus, Jesus was telling the Pharisees [and Episcopalians], “If you believe in Heaven and if you believe in God, then you need to be me or you are not getting there.” Those words [I paraphrased] sound exactly like the words spoken to Nicodemus about being reborn. Those words sounded just as crazy as Jesus saying, “You have to eat my flesh [allegorically bread] and drink my blood [allegorically wine].”   Well, that’s just crazy talk to Pharisees and Episcopalians!


“Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”  You must become a body of flesh sustained by the bread of life that foretold Jesus as the gate AND you must be filled with the blood of the Holy Spirit that is Jesus Christ flowing spirituality within you. When Jesus said, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him,” the “gatekeeper is God.”

One has to be married to God – be His wife – not some memorizer of passages and an intellectual that can quote from other books, saying who wrote what about the meaning of this and that. When one falls in love with God and subjects one’s self-ego in submission to God’s Will, then God will open the gate just like he did on Pentecost Sunday; and, “like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven” one will become Jesus the gate. When Jesus said, “the sheep hear his voice,” this is God speaking the truth to His Son Jesus, while one’s submissive brain is filled with awe and listens to the teaching that makes one an Apostle. [The word “awe” is written in Acts 2:43, which is the feeling all Apostles know.] When Jesus said, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out,” that means they are all named Jesus, plus whatever name they used to be when sin ruled over them. [Saul was so ashamed of his name he changed it to Paul, after he took on the name Jesus Christ.]  The leading out is going to the path of righteousness. It is as David sang, “He guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.” He then sang, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [the lure of mortal sins and the threat of persecution … even to death], I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”  That sings of being called and being led and being righteous and being married to God. Then Jesus said, “the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  That does not say they believe in what Jesus said.


The Greek word “oidasin” is rooted in “eidó,” where “knowing” is relative to “being.” They “remember” Jesus because Jesus’ memories are theirs. They “perceive” Jesus because he sees through their own eyes. It means they “understand” what Jesus’ voice is saying to them, and they go where that voice leads them.  Apostles know the voice of God because they have been born with the Christ Mind, as had Jesus. Finally, when Jesus said, “They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers,” that is a warning to Pharisees and their Episcopalian priestly counterparts. False shepherds speak as if given authority, when they have not entered through the gate of Jesus. They leaped over the fence, becoming thieves and bandits, trying to steal souls from God.  At best, they are hired hands that will run whenever a pandemic shows up at the door.


The sheep who have become Apostles will not follow those false shepherds. Apostles will run away and warn the other seeking sheep to beware. They do not know the voice of a stranger because a stranger to God cannot hear His voice or speak His truth. Well, I hope this can help someone prepare a decent sermon. If you are not a reborn Jesus Christ, but wear a Pharisee’s robe, then at least admit the truth. Say, “I am a Pharisee and I do not understand all this talk of sheep, gates, shepherds and stuff.” Maybe then God will open one’s heart and mind and flow His Word through one’s mouth, for the benefit of any seekers who might be in attendance.


Amen

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