“The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.” Psalm 23:1 (CEB)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11 (CEB)
Shepherds aren’t a common sight today, at least in most places. In Jesus’ day, they were often seen on hillsides with their flocks. There are two sides to being a shepherd in that day. One is that the “good shepherd” was someone who loved the flock, took care of them, protected them, guided them, and was loyal and faithful.
On the other hand, there were those shepherd who were hired to take care of the flock, and they really didn’t have any commitment or loyalty to the flock or the owner of the sheep. Perhaps they were the ones who gave shepherds a bad name because apparently there were some who stole from the town merchants on those occasions where they were seen in the villages.
I suspect that all shepherds had hygiene issues since they were pretty much with their flocks morning, noon, and night. In that case, they might not have been particularly welcome in close quarters! Jesus’ image of the Good Shepherd echoes the assurances of the Psalmist that the shepherd is with the flock through “thick and thin” and will not abandon the flock.
The Good Shepherd is one who will even die for the flock. When we think of this image, the Good Friday and Easter messages connect. Jesus is the one who died for us and was raised from the dead so that we might have forgiveness of sins and life eternal. This is God’s gift to us.
So does that mean we are the flock? I guess so. I don’t know a lot about sheep, but I’m not sure I really like being compared to sheep. From what I understand, they will follow anyone; they stray easily; they can be so busy eating grass that they don’t realize they have wandered away from the rest of the flock; they are too quickly led astray. Oh – wait – maybe we as human beings are a little like that!
Maybe that’s why it’s so important to be connected to a community of faith. We shepherd each other even as we invite others to be part of the flock. We are shepherded by the Good Shepherd and we in turn care for and guide each other. So many people scoff at the church folks and say it’s outdated, but I wonder if they ever really became involved in a caring and supportive church community.
Oh, I know that we humans are so VERY human! We make mistakes, say the wrong things, don’t listen very well at times, and do a lot of things that are particularly reflective of being a follower of Jesus. Yet, as a community, we can set an example for forgiveness and acceptance; we can work through problems and move forward. What a great witness to the world!
Recently I needed to fly to my home state of Iowa where my 91 year old father was moving to senior apartments after having fallen in his home three times. He realized that he needed a safer place with more people around. In spite of his physical challenges, he is totally with it, and a very intelligent man. I had just been out there only a month and a half earlier, but I felt that I needed to be there to help my siblings clean out the house and assist him in settling in.
On the Sunday before I left, one of the churches I serve surprised me with a collection to help offset my plane fare. Their love and support touched me so deeply, and it paid for over half the cost of my ticket. They, to me, represent what community – being part of the flock – is all about. This isn’t a one time event, I have seen them collect food for the hungry, money for the United Methodist “No More Malaria” campaign, send a child to church summer camp, over load a tree full of gifts for needy families, collect shoes for the homeless, donate gift cards to someone in the church who lost their job, and so many other “faith in action” things. Prayer empowers them to be the shepherds in Jesus’ name.
This is a church that has gone through some rough times and has come out on the other side to serve God by providing a place to grow in faith, remain accountable, and support each other through thick and thin. Thanks be to God!
How can we all find ways to be shepherds for Christ?
What would we have to change or give up to be Christ’s shepherd?
How can we improve on what we are doing now?
The Lord is our shepherd! Hallelujah!