“Basil of Seleucia became archbishop of Seleucia about the year 440. (He was a notorious flip-flopper – he would never have made it in politics). He is remembered for his fluctuating attitude in the events which preceded the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He voted against Monophysitism at the Synod of Constantinople in 448, but at the “Robber Synod” of Ephesus in 449 gave his support to Eutyches, the originator of Monophysitism. Then at the Council of Chalcedon he signed the Tome of Saint Leo, which condemned Eutyches. Thirty-nine of Basil’s homilies have been preserved.”1 His sermon on Jesus as the Good Shepherd was remarkably long – I studied long passages just from the 85th page of the manuscript – but I promise this sermon will not try to match Basil’s in length.
Basil’s main point seemed to be this, from his sermon: “Death held sway until Christ died. The grave was bitter, our prison was indestructible, until the shepherd went down and brought to his sheep, confined there, the good news of their release.”2
“Jesus must have thought he couldn’t have been any clearer. Perhaps he was surprised he had to explain the matter at all. But people weren’t getting it, so it needed to be said: God really, truly does love all of us, all the time. That it was even necessary for him to explain that he and the devil are enemies, that there are wolves out there that oppose Him and His people, must have broken Jesus’s heart. But because he loves us so much, Jesus laid it out for us: he loves us so dearly that he will do anything for us, lead us, guide us, keep us safe, nourish us, bless us with all the gifts of life. And he loves us so much that even though he does know what’s best for us, he never forces his way upon us.”3
That is why describes Himself as the Good Shepherd rather than the Benevilent Dictator. God didn’t force anyone, He didn’t coerce any of His prized creation to love Him or even honor or obey Him. Humans, being humans, we wanted more than God’s love; we wanted God’s power, His knowledge, we wanted what we thought we were missing, and so we tried to grasp it, to take it for ourselves, and like the devil before us, what we grasped was death.
But God continued to love us, and so in His time He sent His Son to be with us. “Jesus knows us so well that he does know that we will rebel and refuse to follow him, not so much because we don’t love him or don’t believe him or don’t want eternal life, but because we just don’t want to follow somebody else; we succumb to the irrational notion that we know the way to go better than he does, even though Jesus has been to heaven and back again, and even though our own compasses spin lazily around and around when we draw them close to our own hearts. He does warn us that those who would take his place, those who claim to satisfy our deepest longings and offer an easy path, are in fact charlatans at best (and wolves at worst), and they will ultimately do us only harm, but he does not attempt to take our place, lets us choose our own path, as painful as our mistakes may be. That is his nature, because he is love, and love cannot be coercive. Jesus loves us and never stops calling us forward, leading us through grace to heaven, even though he knows our stubbornness, our covetousness, and our monumental pride.”4
But again, in our monumental pride, “Death held sway…The grave was bitter, our prison was indestructible, until the shepherd went down and brought to his sheep, confined there, the good news of their release.”
The Good Shepherd didn’t come just to guide us or protect us or lay out a path to righteousness; if that was all we needed, perhaps even a hireling would do. What we needed was a Good Shepherd, a Shepherd who would lay down His very life for the sheep, even the sheep who had wandered into their own death and destruction.
This is the good news of our release from the confines of the death we have chosen, the death we choose every time we choose to be our own god; Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has conquered even death for His sheep, if only we listen for His voice.
3The Rev. Bret Hays, Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2014