Tag Archives: good shepherd

Messiah and Good Shepherd?

[There is a reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday at “The Lord is – my tour guide?“, and there follows one for the gospel for Easter 4c]

The Festival of Dedication – Hanukkah, at Christmastime, remembered the re-dedication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus after he threw the Greeks out of Jerusalem (John 10:22-30, especially verse 22). A time when thoughts of freedom, and God’s Messiah, came up. So – Was Jesus the Messiah – and why wouldn’t he say so?

I think you know. He was the Messiah, all that he had done pointed to it. But if he said so, it would just start an argument. People needed, not to argue, but to think for themselves – and follow up their conclusions by action.

That’s still true. Preachers tend not to shout at you much. Why? It doesn’t do anything useful. The stories are told, connections and suggestions offered. You have to take responsibility for weighing it up – and taking action. Is Jesus the Messiah, or something else? I think he’s the Messiah, and that’s the basis of my following Him. Make your own mind up – and act on the conclusion!

Then there is the difficult verse John 10:26 “but you will not believe, for you are not my sheep.”

Difficult because:

  • It divides the flock (who believe – with much more than a correct opinion) from those who do not; – a critical division. Seen clearly in the story of Jesus, we still fail to apply it in our own time. Are you part of the flock of God, or not? “Independent sheepishness” is not on offer.
  • It reminds us that faith is a gift. On the one hand, no one is prevented from following Jesus / joining the flock. On the other, faith is a gift. There is an undeniable truth in the doctrine of Predestination. There is a paradox, difficult to hold together logically. Faith is a gift, yet those who lack it are held responsible for the actions of their faithless life.

The benefits of being in the flock are real, but not always romantic. The sheep who know the shepherd are themselves known. Those who follow the shepherd are led to food, water, and safe rest. That does not mean a selfish life – everything you want and nothing else; nor does it avoid the robust realities of getting on with the other sheep. But the difference between that, and life outside, without guidance and protection, or even hope of forgiveness and escaping the consequences of failure, are breathtaking.

The image of the Good Shepherd may be romanticised by some, but not by Jesus. He understands the division between the flock and those not included as key to the future.

Motivation

When a leader talks of self-sacrifice, it makes all the difference if we know whether he gives it, or expects others to give it.  Jesus is one of the few who lead by example.

This leads us to a great division between two motives for living as a Christian.  Some rely on the fact that the Christian faith is true, that Jesus has the authority of God, and that the promise of heaven and threat of judgement need to be taken seriously.  There is not a lot wrong with that, except that as motivation, it needs a very high level of self-discipline to keep going, and can be a bit – miserable?

I think there is a stronger motive, though I struggle to describe it without using cliches.  The motive is Jesus, who is worth following just because of who he is.  It comes out in John 10:11-18, where he uses the language of shepherding a flock to explain his ministry.  He is true – not because he talks about truth, but by his actions.  He is both justice and mercy, and at the same time.  He is not caught off balance, even when tired or threatened.  I hesitate to use the word love, because it is so often misused, but he defines it.  He gives, but gives only what is good; he never forces, never manipulates.  His love pays the cost, without whining, without announcing the fact or making demands.

You may be a Christian because you hold the faith to be true and accurate and offers the only sure way to heaven, and I shall have no complaint.  But I shall follow Jesus as much for what he is, for the way he gives our salvation, and invites our partnership.

If that provides a great motivation, I am afraid it is not well understood.  It worries me that I meet people who are not ready to serve.  Somehow they haven’t understood that to follow such a Lord comes before all sorts of other (good) things, like family, career, friends and lifestyle choices . . .  Odd! and sad.

Whose Shepherd?

There is a lot about the Good Shepherd in the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, which provides the gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter (in all 3 years of the lectionary).  It also reflects Psalm 23, which worries me, because so many people happily quote, “The Lord is my Shepherd”.

Is he?  It is a factual question.  Reading John 10 will help to give a factual answer.  The chapter begins with reference to “thieves and bandits”, and a look back to chapter 9 makes clear that Jesus is labelling those who assumed a right to be leaders of religion – and to criticise him for a remarkable healing on the Sabbath day.  Clearly there is a choice of leaders to follow!

Then Jesus talks about the relationship between sheep and shepherd.  While flocks might be kept together overnight, the shepherd would be able to pick out his sheep, and they would know “their” shepherd from others.  The implication is that Christians relate to the Good Shepherd, distinguishing him from others and being known by him.  This is where “The Lord is my Shepherd” becomes a true or false statement.

Apparently this is not understood (verse 6).  We might take comfort that other people get things wrong and fail to understand!  (Preachers are relieved to know that even Jesus didn’t always get his point over first time).  Even better, he explains again.

The sheepfold is needed – at night it provides safety and rest.  We might see a comparison with the Church, or Christian fellowship.  Under Jesus’ direction, we need to go in to be protected from “thieves and bandits” – to be taught, and find rest and healing.  But the sheep cannot stay in the sheepfold.  By day they need to go out – with the Shepherd – to be taken to food and water.  Christians need to get into the world, to work, to serve the wider community, to “practise” their faith, and be a blessing to others.  There has to be movement in and out, with the Shepherd the key figure.

So I find challenge in these passages, and not just reassurance – let alone sentimentality.  How do you take it?  Can you be taken seriously saying, “The Lord IS my Shepherd”?

The Lord is – my Tour Guide? (Easter 4c)

I was in Cyprus for the SAT7 Network Conference (very good, but another story), and we spent three days being tourists afterwards.  That also was enjoyable, but made me think about a contemporary re-write of Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my Tour Guide, provided as part of the package.
I shall pay only as much attention as I want at any time, and interpret instructions about departure times and activities as I see fit.
I shall expect attention, my problems sorted and my questions answered;
but I shall not feel any need to be polite, or form a relationship.
If I get into trouble, I shall scream for help,
but if not, I don’t expect my priorities and enjoyment to be interfered with.
If there is good performance and I feel generous, they might be a tip,
but it is someone else’s job to pay.”

Perhaps that’s overdoing it, but I do wonder if the Good Shepherd has not sometimes been replaced.  This Sunday, we remember John 10:27 “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.”  We may use Psalm 23 (“I have everything I need” – not want!).  A Shepherd directs the flock for a purpose they may not understand.  He protects the sheep from dangers they may not notice, and makes plans they may not be aware of.  To be part of the flock, the sheep have to be – part of the flock.  With the shepherd, under direction.

So there is a question: Is the Lord your Shepherd (with this understanding), or do you see him as your “tour guide”?