Some notes from yesterday morning- thinking about the picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that we read in John’s Gospel, chapter 10…
First up, would Jesus’ listeners have understood him when he started to talking about sheepfolds and shepherds? Probably a lot more than we would, and certainly more than most of the population of the UK. People also knew how sheep behaved, though the sheep of first century Palestine may have had more similarities to goats or the hardy mountain breeds than the white fluffy image we have in our heads. Outside of the few major cities people would have been familiar with the sight of shepherds leading their flocks across the hills, or driving them to markets. The image of a shepherd was furthermore a strong cultural image for the people of Israel- the words of Psalm 23 portray God as a shepherd. And in their history there were a few famous shepherds too… but how many of these Biblical shepherds do you know? 3 clues for each one- raise your hand when you think you’ve guessed it…
Offered the Lord the best part of his flock and the Lord was pleased; his brother was very jealous; a son of Adam and Eve (Answer: Abel)
Looked after flocks for his in-laws; his father-in-law was called Jethro; he saw a burning bush (Moses)
Made and agreement with his uncle about spotty sheep; had disagreements with his twin; wrestled with an angel of God (Jacob/Israel)
Had 7 brothers; played the harp; killed a giant
Kept sheep near Tekoa during the reign of King Uzziah; told people to turn back to God; had visions of a plumb line and a basket of fruit (Amos)
Eldest of a large family; threw his younger brother in a pit; didn’t know his other brothers then sold him (Reuben)
In the passage we’re looking at today, Jesus identifies with 2 important characteristics of a good shepherd- firstly that of being faithful- a willingness to protect the sheep- the good shepherd lays down his life… to protect their sheep from wild animals, thieves or the elements. In Luke’s Gospel he taught of a shepherd who would go to great lengths to find and rescue a lost sheep- far beyond what would be expected of a hired hand… Jesus taught about this, and referred to it again and again… we read this with the benefit of hindsight and understand that he was talking about his death, but his original hearers wouldn’t have fully grasped this.
The second characteristic is of knowing his sheep, and being known by them… Jesus knows us, and understands us… he calls to us. He wants his followers to know his voice. We get to know his voice by spending time listening to his words- by praying, by reading the Bible, by worshipping… if you remember the old logo for the HMV music shops- ‘his master’s voice’, it was of a dog sitting and listening to a gramophone player- the implication that it was listening and paying attention to his masters voice. If we’re praying, and think we may be hearing God in some way- in a picture or idea, if we’re unsure we can discern whether we’re hearing Jesus’ voice or our own thoughts by holding them alongside an example we know- where his words are written down… And Jesus is saying ‘follow me’… as a shepherd he knows better than us where we should go… he will lead us, guide us, protect us, save us… but we have to follow him.
And where does Jesus call us to follow him? Into the world, as disciples, taking the message of hope and good news- the Gospel of the Son of God who laid his life down. We need to remember that this is a message of salvation rather than improvement- remembering it in how it fits within our lives and how we portray it to others. Jesus calls us all- every one of us has a vocation, a calling to our lives. That word is often used only to describe ‘professional’ or ‘licenced’ Christian ministry, or sometimes for certain jobs such as healthcare, but actually all Christians have a calling- to follow Jesus where he is leading us… it may be a place of work, or a ministry within the church, it may be to share the Good News with a particular group of people, it may be to another country. As we discern and respond to that calling, so we will be called further… to keep following him, and as we learn to hear his voice, and experience life with him by our side, we realise that there is no greater calling than to simply be with him- to be a Christian wherever we are; living out the Christian life of prayer, witness and worship as best we can. That’s not something we grow out of or retire from, but something to which we are all, always growing.
He is the good shepherd, he calls us on. He laid down his life for us, no one took it from him. As we follow his voice, he leads us in good ways to good pastures, and as we journey, we know him the more.
I’m really interested in hearing other people’s stories about how they have come to know Jesus/have grown to know Jesus more/know Jesus in their lives… or whatever language you prefer in your tradition! I asked people in the church where i was speaking to send me an email or write me a note about their own experiences- we’ll see what i get, but i’d love to hear from anyone else about your own experience of knowing Jesus as guide or saviour, friend or teacher…