Jesus was a great speaker. He used images and metaphors; he used stories to share God’s truth about God’s Kingdom. One way he did this was to use what was before them. He told stories that every person who heard it would immediately understand with a visual image. These images helped to make clear a message that was big, usually about God’s Kingdom. The story of the sower was something every person would have understood. They had seen sowers, people spreading seed.
But Jesus did something unexpected. He took what they saw and knew and with that image he then would shock them. He would take the image and turn it upside down.
This Sunday we have a story about the Christ as the Good Shepherd. It is familiar for us. We have heard it so many times it sort of rolls off the tongue. I have always liked the picture of Jesus, with a pastoral staff and a lamb on his shoulders. Isn’t it wonderful, Jesus as the Good Shepherd. But how many people here have ever seen a shepherd? Does anyone here know a shepherd? When Jesus told this story, every person had seen shepherds. They knew them. They were relatives or friends, or at least they had seen them around town or out in the fields taking care of the sheep.
They knew what a shepherd’s role was and what the expectations of the job were. We are at somewhat of a loss because that image is not something most of us have experienced.
Being a shepherd was a vocation. It required spending most of your time taking care of innocent, simple creatures. Being a shepherd was risky. It required a person who was willing to face whatever threat, whether wolf or lion or human and stand between these defenseless creatures and the threat. It required someone who would be a fiduciary and always think of the sheep before themselves.
So, Jesus describes his relationship with the people and said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10: 11-16)
He describes his relationship with you. Jesus describes his relationship; Gods relationship with humanity.
One thing you may not know is that every person there would have been shocked at his description. Shepherds who care for sheep, care for the dumbest creatures and Jesus was talking about them.
The 23rd Psalm speaks to this unique relationship and how dumb sheep are.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures:
When you hear,” leads me beside still waters”, hear also sheep will not drink from flowing water. They will only drink from pools of water. Finding still water is a requirement for sheep. They will also not eat from a container. They will not stick their heads in buckets. They need pastures. Unlike other farm animals, sheep do not do well in pens, but instead need to be out in pastures. Without this relationship and the shepherd taking them to a place where they can drink and where they can eat, they would die.
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in the right paths for his name’s sake.
Herding creatures are remarkable. They are something like baitfish in the ocean. I don’t know if you have ever seen a ball of bait fish. They move indiscriminately. From the outside, they look like one unit but this unit continuously changes shape. Fish move from outside to inside. The purpose is so the predator can’t pick out one fish to attack. Sheep have the same pattern. It is a good defense but it means they have no sense of direction on their own, especially when they are scared.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me: your rod and your staff – they comfort me.
The shepherd’s presence brings a sense of peace. The shepherd’s staff has two ends. The cured end is meant to lovingly help a sheep get out of trouble. It represents the pastoral touch of the shepherd. But the staff has another end. It is pastoral but is intended to correct the path the sheep is on.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Shepherds and sheep have a unique relationship. Sheep must depend on the shepherd because their instincts would not allow them to survive. Sheep are dumb. Jesus took what the people knew and then challenged them. He held up this image and then told them they were the sheep in the story. Jesus was describing a relationship which places him as the one who will lead because without that leadership we would die. He was talking about you. He was talking about me. Without God, without God’s redeeming love, you are not going to make it. But there is something placed on us. In this relationship, we have a responsibility. Yes, we may not be smart and yes, when left to our own devices we would die. But, we are asked to recognize God’s voice. We are asked to be in a relationship where we know God and God’s voice. We are asked to spend time listening and engaged in knowing God and God’s son and God’s spirit.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We are called to follow and trust and depend. It is a relationship which calls each of us to seek out Christ, to know His voice, and to trust and follow.