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Good Shepherd Sunday

My dearest Lord, be thou a bright flame before me, be thou a guiding star above me, be thou a smooth path beneath me, be thou a kindly shepherd behind me, today and evermore St Columba

Jesus the Good Shepherd

Some notes on the theme:

This fourth Sunday in Easter, with its reading from John’s Gospel, is often called “ Good Shepherd Sunday” – and  sheep and shepherds  were a very familiar part of Palestinian life in Jesus’ time.

The shepherd had to feed as well as protect his flock. He would have to travel long distances with them,  especially in the hot summer period. He would know each one usually by name, and each sheep would know the voice of his shepherd,  just as acutely as a dog is so attune to the voice of its master or mistress. Each night he would count his sheep into an open  sheep fold, and lay himself across the opening – so becoming “the door of the sheep”.

He had to keep a keen watch for the wild animals which came up from the jungle of the Jordan Valley. He would carry a staff to catch hold of the sheep which fell and would carry a wooden club should any attack be forthcoming from a wild animal.

The shepherd usually had charge of a mixed flock of sheep and goats. He could drive the goats, but he led the sheep. Sheep mainly provided wool for clothes and only occasionally were they eaten for meat – a fat tail was a rare delicacy. Sheep’s milk was very poor. If a sheep was stolen, then the shepherd had to repay his master. If attacked by beasts, the shepherd had to bring back the evidence. It was natural for the shepherd to risk his life for his sheep – and he would always be willing to protect them from attack or thieves.

With sheep very much a part of life in biblical  Palestine, references to them in biblical material is hardly surprising.

God is often  pictured as being the  Good Shepherd of Israel. Isaiah 40 v 10-11:

It is no wonder that  one image Jesus used to describe himself and his relationship to his followers was that of The Good Shepherd – The Good Shepherd whose sheep hear his voice and whose constant care is for his flock – and who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

“ I am telling you the truth. I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever comes in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. I am the Good Shepherd – who is willing to die for his sheep. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me.” From John 10.

Note that Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. In Greek there are two words for good. AGATHOS and KALOS. Agathos means something is good rather than bad. For instance, it is a good thing to do to help someone in need.

Kalos on the other hand means someone who is good in the sense  of being lovely, attractive, good and wholesome through and through. This is the sense in which Jesus describes himself – the image of a person who is kind and gracious.

The picture builds up in St John’s gospel of Jesus The Good Shepherd.

  • A Good Shepherd who knows his followers intimately and whose voice they recognize instantly.
  • A Good shepherd who protects his followers selflessly against outside threats and dangers and who will lay down his life for them.
  • A Good Shepherd whose very wholesome attractiveness ensures that his followers follow him where ever he leads them.
  • A Good Shepherd who promises to give his followers eternal life – a very special quality of life lived with God – who promises that life would know no end and a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch Jesus followers from his hand. Even in the darkest moments of life, they would still be conscious of the everlasting arms of God underneath and about them.
  • Whilst Jesus likens himself to a Good Shepherd, the flock of sheep in John 10 is seen as the Church – a church always vulnerable to attack from outsiders, always liable to  trouble from inside from false shepherds.

These lovely words from Jesus in John 10 have at their essence abundant life. That is what Jesus has to offer – abundant life for all his followers.

I invite you to take the image home with you when you leave church and see how God may speak to you through it and in it.

Amen.

April 24, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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