Well, I’ve got a joke to tell you that I can truthfully say I came up on my own in regard to this morning’s text. Laura said I had to take full credit and blame for the joke, because in her option, it isn’t a very good one. Ready for it? Why do we need Jesus as our Good Shepherd? It is because we are so ba-a-a-d.
So, now, joking aside, the metaphor of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is probably one of the most endearing images we have of Jesus. The Good Shepherd is the dominating image in this sanctuary with the stained glass window in the back. We are drawn to this understanding of Jesus as the Shepherd, not because we are bad, but because the shepherd is good beyond measure. We envision him leading us safely through dangers to still waters where we find refreshment of the soul. He doesn’t push us, he leads us. He doesn’t coerce us, he invites us. In this world of rugged individualism, his words reorient us to how dependent upon God’s love and mercy we really are. But it also gives us an understanding how to live in community with each other and those outside the walls of the church.
It all starts with the first two words of this scripture. His “I am” statement at the beginning of this discourse is a way of saying that Jesus meshes his mission with God’s purposes and mission in the world. Alluding to God’s self revelation to Moses at the burning bush where God self-identifies as “Yahweh” which means “I am who I am,” Jesus makes it clear that he is God’s servant and is obedient to God’s work. All the shepherding he does in the world is to point the world to the Father, the one who sent him.
When Jesus says he is the good shepherd, he uses a word that means many things. One of those meanings I’m going to talk about in just a bit, but the word understanding is Jesus isn’t just a run of the mill, average shepherd. He embodies the strength, power, sympathy, kindness, and mercy to be the truest and most faithful shepherd that the world has ever seen. Jesus draws directly from the imagery found from the prophet Ezekiel where God assumes the role of the shepherd. God is the one who leads, guides, feeds, protects, and seeks the lost sheep. By declaring himself the good shepherd, Jesus again connects himself to God’s mission. His very life and work is an act of obedience to God. No sacrifice is too great for his sheep—even his very life is available to further God’s mission of loving the world.
And when Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, he reveals that his calling isn’t only to care and tend the sheep of his flock, but to also gather the flock. In John’s understanding, those who see, hear, and believe in Jesus belong to this community; thus the door is wide open to those who hear and follow—the rich and poor, Jew and gentile, righteous and sinner. In knowing each sheep by name, Jesus is concerned about each and every individual in the flock. But in gathering in the fold, Jesus is also focused on the communal destiny and nature of the flock and how it will grow.
Now, all this speaks to how Jesus leads us, how he guides us, how he protects us, and how all that he does points us all to God the Father. We experience God’s love through him by his actions and we are dependent upon Jesus for all that we are. But I also believe there is something else happening here. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The word that we translate as ‘good’ is not to be understood as the opposite of ‘bad’. That slightly touches on how the Greek word that is used here means, but to get closer to what would is trying to be conveyed is ‘model.’ Jesus is the Model Shepherd. Now, it doesn’t have the nice ring to it as Good Shepherd, but when we see that Jesus, the Model Shepherd, knows the cost of living in intimate relationship with his flock, it points to how we live in relationship with one another.
The model shepherd, the one we emulate, the one who is the ultimate example of how we live our lives in community, knows his sheep and they know him. He gives up his life for them. Do we know each other in this way? Are we willing to give all for one another? As Jesus’ love for us points us to the Father’s love, does our love for one another point others to Jesus’ love? In calling himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is calling us to live in relationship with each other as he lives in relationship with us. Now, we probably will never have to die for someone, but laying down our lives, at its core, can mean any number of ways in which we lay aside our claim to our own lives. We lay down our lives when we put others first and when we live for the good of others. We lay down our lives when we make time for others. To love others is to lay down our life for them in the same way the Good Shepherd lay down his life for us.
Friends, Christ is the Good Shepherd. All that we are and all that we do is found in him. And it is in that being and doing that we can be assured that nothing less then the love of God in Jesus Christ is pulsing through our hearts and hands. Jesus Christ, who is the very love of God incarnate living with and for us, is always present in our acts of love toward one another. It is by his love guiding us, leading us, calling us, that we can love one another. Amen.