Friday of Easter IV – John 10:11-18

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

A few years ago, a team in a submersible vessel identified the wreckage of the USS Johnson at a depth of over 21,000 feet off the coast of the Philippines. The destroyer came to rest on the sea floor because on Oct 25, 1944 its commander, Ernest E. Evans, and his crew did something remarkable. They were a small group of ships tasked with protecting the flank of a large group of unarmed supply and troop transports which were supporting MacArthur’s landing in the Philippines. Unexpectedly a large Japanese force appeared. Realizing that his little flotilla was all that was between the two groups of ships, Cmdr. Evans led a charge of small destroyers against much larger and better armed Japanese ships.

Normally a destroyer would flee before such a potent enemy force. But Evans knew that fleeing would expose thousands of lives and jeopardize the re-taking of the Philippines. Knowing what would happen, he turned his little ship into the teeth of that much larger force. He did not win. His ship was crippled and eventually sunk. But the Japanese commander, having been met with such resistance turned around and sailed away.

Jesus, who was fully human, laid down his life. I think we tend to focus on the divinity of Jesus and hear the next lines imagining that this was easier for Jesus because he was God after all. Do we think that this dying thing was simply a temporary inconvenience for Jesus? Jesus is human. It was a human being who was betrayed, tried, crucified, and died. You are a human. You can map your feelings about that onto him legitimately. Jesus trusts the Father to rescue him from the death he must die. Jesus is clear about how this happened. The Father loved him into that mission, charged him with this task. Loved by the Father, Jesus turned into the teeth of the Roman Empire and the Jerusalem leaders who would put him to cruel death.

Jesus looked at you and me and the rest of humanity. He turned and saw the savage beast who would consume us all. He did not shrink back but was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. As John Chrysostom said, death took what it could see but what it could not see was its undoing. It consumed earth and was itself consumed by heaven. The photos show the prow of the USS Johnson sticking up from the seabed, its numbers, 557, still brilliant against the dark hull. Thousands of men came home to their families after the war because of the sacrifice of Evans and his crew. We turn to the cross, stark against the sky, the shepherd has laid down his life for the sheep. 

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