CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: "I am the Good Shepherd"
Jesus 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
- John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Every fourth Sunday in the season of Easter, no matter the year, we hear Jesus speak of himself as the good shepherd, with his words reverberating in the mouth of the Psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This sense of Jesus’ identity rarely comes as a surprise. A serene man, staff in hand, without a bead of sweat on his brow, surrounded by frolicking lambs (and perhaps with one on his shoulders) is an accessible, identifiable figure for the smallest of children. And whether or not you’ve memorized any parts of the Bible, you likely recognize Psalm 23 when you hear it.
So perhaps it is not a deeper understanding of shepherds and sheep that year after year re-illuminates for us this proclamation of Jesus as the good shepherd. Perhaps it is the singular newness of the season in which we are living when we hear of Jesus’ shepherding action that allows us to recognize something new about this shepherd we profess to be following.
For example, I write this as a relatively new parent of two, now back at work, and, like all of us, slogging her way through an ongoing global pandemic. Last night, I got up four times (pretty good, relatively speaking). Three times I breastfed our infant, and the other time I got our toddler some water.
I have wondered why, on top of everything else, this pattern of living has become strangely acceptable to me. It probably helps that I can’t really remember the last time I slept eight hours (though my memory tells me it was in November). Nevertheless, am I just trying to make things harder for myself? Am I trying to prove something, and, if so, to whom? What does Jesus, the good shepherd, have to say to me about all this, when my tired, beleaguered brain is in need of a word?
Last night I wondered, as I’m sure you have, “Well, Lord, who am I supposed to be: the sheep or the shepherd?” Obviously, the answer, is to some extent, both. You and I are followers of Jesus, even as we seek to walk in his ways. We participate in both the actions of following and of shepherding.
I confess that on this Good Shepherd Sunday the mantle of “shepherd” weighs heavier. I think of our family’s morning and evening routines, which now have me convinced that if you read 100 First Words enough times it will become as legitimate a prayer as you’ve ever said. I think of parents who have been middle managers of their children’s meals, schedules, education and psychological well-being since the pandemic began. I think of caregivers who have needed to school their children from their earliest days in what to do when they see a police officer, and what not to do. “To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Surely Christian discipleship, in all its various forms, involves much shepherding.
But then I think of that beautiful William Blake poem, set to music by John Tavener, which asks, “Little lamb, who made thee?” While I have been in the throes of shepherding, of trying to participate in the laying down of one’s life, I wonder how God has been shepherding me through this time. What about you? Who are the people, what are the experiences through which God has been shaping you and me? Where, within the threads of life, have you felt yourself being led, and accompanied, and loved? Perhaps it was in supporting someone, through laughter and tears, that took everything out of you, but you wouldn’t have spent the energy any other way. Maybe you got up and plodded down the hallway to a baby letting you know of their hunger, not just for food, but for you.
Maybe being Christ's sheep and being Christ-like shepherds are actually sides of the same holy coin, of living alongside a God who searches for us as ardently as that God longs to be found by us. Maybe walking with Jesus yields the revelation, however mysteriously, that laying down one’s life can be not only an open-ended act of divestment but also one of discovery.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus