Ps. 23; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 19-25; John 10:1-10
Courtyard, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the courtyard by the Gate but goes up from a different source is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the Gate is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the Gatekeeper opens… “Truly, truly, I say to you, I Am the gate of the sheep … [I]f anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find [the Father’s feeding].” (vv. 1-3a, 7b, 9).
All translations are fraught with interpretation. One fine translation (RSV) titles today’s Gospel, “The Parable of the Sheepfold”. The problem with that interpretation is Jesus neither teaches a parable nor is he principally imaging an agricultural “sheepfold”; rather he intends to confront the Jews over their temple.
We are not, like the pagans, to think of heaven as a future after-life romp through “elysian fields”; but “courtyard” worship of God in his new Temple.
When Jesus speaks of “courtyard”, “gate”, and “gatekeeper”, he is employing the temple theology from Psalm 23, not a well-watered grassy countryside; but his Father’s pasture in Christ.
The Jews recently drove Jesus from the temple on threat of stoning (Jn. 8:59); on departing he healed a man born blind (9:7). The man confessed to the synagogue Pharisees (v. 27b) his desire to be a follower of Jesus and so, like Jesus’ expulsion from the temple, the man was excommunicate from the synagogue. Jesus searched out the bereft but newly sighted man receiving his worship and discipleship.
Now, Jesus and this lone lost sheep stood against both temple and synagogue. When Pharisees challenged Jesus judgment of them as blind guides (vv. 39, 40), he delivers today’s “Good Shepherd” discourse, making himself God’s new Temple, its Gate, and Shepherd subsuming and replacing the old.
The discourse is no parable; it is direct theological temple talk, that a “new Shepherd has come to town” to sweep away a den of “thieves and robbers” (10:8; cf. Mt. 21:12, 13), and the temple Jews and synagogue Pharisees.
Consider God’s new Temple-Shepherd-courtyard theology from today’s 23rd psalmody without employing traditional English rustic translation:
v. 1, “The LORD tends me, not one thing do I lack.”
God assigned Adam to “tend and guard” the Garden, his place of name and presence with man (Gen. 2:15). “Tending and guarding” describes the church’s liturgical vocation in Christ, God’s second Adam in the garden of our new Temple.
Jesus twice located the man born blind; it is the Lord himself who seeks out and shepherds his people into his courts; but will destroy those fat and abusive ones (Ezek. 34:15, 16; Ps. 100:3, 4; Mt. 18:12, 13).
v. 2, “He encamped me in the place of tender shoots; at the water of rest, he nourished me.”
Jesus is God’s “tender shoot” (Isa. 53:2) the source and nourishment of his remnant. The occasion of Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse is the conclusion of Tabernacles when Israel was finally encamped around the temple precincts.
In the midst of the Tabernacle water ceremony on its last great day Jesus cryed out, “If anyone thirst let him come to me. And let him who believes in me drink, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of my own heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (Jn. 7:37, 38).
v. 3, “My life he returned; and guided me upon roads of righteousness because of his name.”
On the following Passover, Jesus returned from exile across the Jordan, raising Lazarus and enter Jerusalem, greeted with Davidic ovation, “the King of the Jews”, immediately he entered the temple “gates of righteousness” (Ps. 118:19, 20); past the Soreg wall barring Gentiles on pain of death, through the Beautiful Gate into the Court of the Women, up the choir steps and through the Nicanor Gate leading to the Courts of Israel and the altar.
Jesus cleansed the temple serving notice and preparing God’s departure from these courts to a new courtyard and pasture where you today arrange your Lutheran seating.
v. 4, “For if even I should go in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall not be afraid of evils, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
Jesus’ on-going confrontations with temple and synagogue authorities engendered a “fear of the Jews” among his disciples and others (Jn. 7:13; 9:22; 19:38, 39; 20:19; Mt. 28:11-15). Still Jesus’ travel to the cross, God’s new Altar, was intrepid, through the Gethsemane’s garden gate to Golgotha and access to God’s new dwelling place.
Jesus walked amid the “shadow of death” that we might be comforted from every fear under his protection and victory. Today fear in the world is pandemic. We do not throw caution to the wind, good sense out the window, or needlessly endanger brother or sister from compromised health; but neither are we to fear dark shadows and threats against our mass and Holy Communion.
The church in every day and age will continue to do what she has been given to do; convey God’s communal word and Sacrament in and out of season (2 Tim. 2:2), “[remembering] dust you are and to dust you shall return”. It is out of the shadow of fear that Christ crucified and risen has called you to “return of life” (Ps. 23:3).
v. 5, “You prepared before me a table right opposite the ones afflicting me. You anointed with oil my head, and your most excellent cup is intoxicating me.”
Following Holy Week’s temple cleansing Jesus commenced Holy Thursday’s Supper; a “table right opposite the afflicting ones”. Jesus’ table is for the Baptized, those anointed with the oil of the HS. His meal with the Apostles is their assurance of our joy over fear in the courtyard of the Father’s favor, partaking, not of metaphorical “grass”, but of him who is his “Tender Shoot”, whose excellent Blood-Wine intoxicates us in eternal union.
v. 6, “And your mercy purses me all the days of my life; and my dwelling is in the house of the LORD for duration of days.”
Today’s Reading from the Acts of The Apostles: “And [the church] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), describes NT “courtyard” life as “apostolic”. It was the Apostles’ right and privilege to touch with their hands the incarnate Word of life (1 Jn. 1:1) that we have fellowship with them, and in that way with the Father and his Son (v. 3).
We are only connected to Jesus risen and ascended in one way, by the Apostles’ teaching, prayers, and fellowship in breaking of the Bread. Note the Prayer of the Church’s Prayer is liturgically situate in the mass of the Lutheran Rite (Common Service) with our Eucharistic consecration.
So, we enquire, of what does apostolic “teaching and fellowship” consist; is it not what Jesus established on Holy Thursday, our fidelity to God’s Eucharist in Christ Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, to which St. Thomas was reinstated by his commitment to a communal handling of Jesus flesh and blood?
The church confesses, being “one holy catholic and apostolic”, each descriptive, informs the others of our courtyard dwelling in the house of the Lord. Amen.