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Church News Volume 6, Issue 5 (May 2005)

Dear friends,

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd." (John 10.14)

The Scottish biblical scholar Sir George Adam Smith (1856-1942) was once travelling the Holy Land with a guide when he came upon an Arab shepherd with his flock. As they began to talk, the man showed him the fold where the sheep were kept at night. It was an enclosure open to the sky with four walls and one way in. "When the sheep are in here," said the shepherd, "they are perfectly safe." Sir George was surprised: "But there is no door," he said. "I am the door," replied the shepherd. "When the light is gone, and the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space. No sheep can ever go out without crossing my body, and if a wolf tries to come in, my body blocks his path; I am the door." Sir George's surprise turned to amazement: this Arab peasant was not a Christian, yet in describing his shepherd-role, he echoed the words Jesus spoke in declaring himself to be the good shepherd.

Jesus used images from the world around him to help people understand the things of the Kingdom, and the shepherd has been a familiar figure down the ages in Palestine. Indeed, throughout the Bible, the image of the shepherd and his sheep is a recurring picture of the king and his people. David is the greatest shepherd-king in the Old Testament, yet God reveals through the prophet Ezekiel that he intends to "set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David" (Ezekiel 34:23). That one is, of course, Jesus, who here declares himself as the ultimate shepherd-king.

Jesus has been appointed by God and is in this role by right; unlike animal-rustlers or other intruders, this shepherd enters the sheep-pen by the proper entrance. Jesus has come in God's way and God's time for God's purposes.

Jesus is God's anointed one, with a unique ministry. Just as the sheep had to pass over the Arab shepherd's body to reach pasture, so we need to pass over Jesus' body, given for us, to come into fullness of life. There is no other way. Jesus is the true ruler. He alone has the power to grant salvation and protect his people from life-threatening enemies.

Jesus' authority is clear: his is the voice worthy of his people's obedient response. Yet, unlike the shepherds of our English hillsides who herd their flock from behind, Middle Eastern shepherds lead their sheep from the front. Jesus reminds us that we are called, not driven, into the Kingdom. And his authority is not that of some distant imperial despot. An Arab shepherd needed to know his sheep intimately. Flocks were often intermingled in a common sheepfold, and each shepherd would call out his particular sheep from amongst them in his distinctive voice and manner. Shepherds knew their flock so well they often had individual names for each sheep. Jesus, too, knows his own by name.

Finally, Jesus' authenticity is shown in his passionate commitment for his people's welfare. Jesus is the shepherd who will not exploit the flock, unlike other would-be shepherds of the day - the self-seeking leaders and revolutionaries who duped the people with false promises; those Pharisees and Sadducees of the religious establishment who abused their responsibilities by having an eye on their own gain at the people's expense. In contrast, Jesus gives up his life on their behalf.

Jesus states he is the good shepherd, but his discourse also asks us a question: Are we good sheep?

Today, as in Jesus' time, there are many would-be shepherds. These powers and personalities call us to follow false trails - of money and materialism; status and self-seeking. If we want to hear Jesus speak we need to learn to recognise his distinctive voice, through spending time reading his word, gathering with the rest of the flock to worship him, and praying and listening out for his still small voice of guidance amidst the noise of everyday living.

Choosing to respond to Jesus' call also involves the challenge to trust his voice, just as a good sheep trusts that the shepherd is heading for pasture, even if the way looks steep and barren.

But Jesus promises that when we follow him, we will not become penned in, but set free, known by name and safe in his care.

Rev'd Ian M. Finn

(from sermon on Sunday Easter 4)

News Letter Archive.

Last Modified Wednesday 25 May 2011