Jesus used many examples to explain his ministry or to bring a point across. He would use farming examples, business, family, professionals and many more. In this particular story we read today, he uses an example of a person taking care of his sheep.
Jesus was aware of the words of David in Psalm 23 where David talked of the LORD being his shepherd. It must have been something that David could fully understand for he grew up being a shepherd for his father’s flock. Being the youngest, this was his assigned duty since the older brothers had other things to attend to. Jesus uses different analogies in the Bible either about himself or the kingdom of God. In our story today, Jesus talks of himself as a shepherd and not just an ordinary shepherd but a Good Shepherd. We also know that David, in the book of Psalm, used the term shepherd for the LORD, as I mentioned above. Maybe in the well-known Psalm 23 – which is often used in funeral services- affirms Jesus’ statement. This parable that Jesus told (there were three of them that he told as one, ‘the lost coin,’ ‘the lost sheep,’ and ‘the prodigal son’) is a contrast between good and bad, faithful and unfaithful. But before we get deep into our story today, I would like us to name who God is in our lives and what that means. For David, God was a shepherd. He saw his God in relation to what he did. As a shepherd, David believed his God played the following roles:
- God as guide: leading him in green pastures. Always leading to safety.
- God as companion: Guides in the paths of righteousness.
- God as protector: In walking through the shadow of death, no fear.
- God as provider: Prepares a table for him and his cup overflows.
- God blesses: He anoints my head with oil.
I have always wondered what would happen if each of us would like to give his or her God a practical name. How do you see your God in relation to what you do? I am thinking of a surgeon who would say, “The Lord is my surgeon. He removes the tumors in my body.” A chiropractor: “The Lord is my chiropractor. He takes care of my aches and pains. How about a homemaker: “My LORD, set everything in order for me and make my life easy.” A pastor: “The LORD visits me, prays with me, encourages me.” A mechanic: “The LORD makes sure every part of me is running right.” “The LORD is my surveyor, my chemist, my driver, my father…”
Let us get back to Jesus as a good shepherd and what it means to us. There is some background information that we need to know to help us understand this passage better. First, in Palestine in the time of Jesus, sheep were raised for wool, not for butchering. Therefore, one would keep the same sheep for a long time. Hence, they probably had names that they were known by like white-legged, or sporty. They probably would compare with horses here in America. Anybody here who has ever owned a horse knows that they have names for them and they respond to the name. The shepherd had a special language that the sheep understood. The language may not make sense to one who is not a shepherd and, even then, each shepherd had a unique language for the flock. This reminds me that each one of us here communicates to their God in a unique way; one in which an outsider may not fully understand.
My only question to you and to me today is “Do we have the language that God speaks to us?” If you don’t, you’d better try to spend more time with him. In Greek language there are two words for good. One is agathos which means moral quality; the second is kalos which means there is a certain charm or loveliness in that kind of God. In our passage today, the Greek word used here is kalos, meaning there is something more than the professional. For example, when you talk of a good doctor we are not talking of his/her efficiency and skill but rather his/her sympathy, kindness, and graciousness. That is how Jesus is to us. As we think of Jesus as a good shepherd today, let us be reminded of Psalm 23.
- Jesus is ready to guide us: This calls for Jesus to guide us in our path of life if we are willing to follow him. We need to remember that it tood forty years for the Israelites to get to the Promised Land but surely God kept his promise. Jesus has never been know to lead his people astray. It might seem to take a long time but people eventually get there. There are so many decisions we make today without seeking the will of God. I remember as a young believer being reminded, for example, to pray to God when the time came for me to marry so that he would guide me to the right one. I know today there are people happily married who met through the internet. The point here is not the method used but rather that God might guide you to the right one. Very few of us seek God when we make life decisions, and yet we think God will guide us. How many people take seriously the time to pray for God’s guidance before they buy a car? Jesus is willing to guide us if we are ready to follow.
- Jesus is ready to unite us: One thing is true and that is that we are one in Jesus’ name. We might belong to different denominations but we are all united under one Fatherhood of God. Since God is the father of us all we are, therefore, brothers and sisters in Jesus’ name. It is only through Jesus that the world becomes one. It is in obeying this one shepherd that we are joined. Our unity does not mean having one denomination but rather having the same royalty to Jesus Christ. We are, therefore, called to bring people to this one same love under one shepherd. It is like a missionary story that is told that took place in Saskatchewan. When Egerton Young preached among the native Americans, one of the tribal chiefs came forward inquiring if Egerton was referring to the Great Spirit he was preaching about as the father. “Did I hear you say, ‘Our Father?'” “Yes,” said Egertone Young. Then the old chief, looking like a man on whom a dawn of joy had burst said, “You and I are brothers!” Today we come in this sanctuary as brothers and sisters, even if we come in different cars and from different places.
- Jesus is ready to protect us: We get attacks from outside and from inside. Like robbers and thieves that steal, the world tends to rob our faith by offering some attractions that go against God’s teaching. People are attracted to life-styles that are not acceptable. From inside the church, like bad shepherds, the church today is stuck with bad leaders. Leaders that see the calling as a career, not as a service and we have many of these people in our pulpits today.
Jesus know the dangers around us like a good shepherd and puts his life out there for us. He shields us from unseen dangers. Like robbers, the devil tries to steal our faith, our joy, our love, our generosity, even our interpersonal relationships.
The devil steals love for our family, our church, the important things of our Christian life. He pulls us toward practices that do not glorify God. We have to count on Jesus to protect us, seeking his insights before we act.
I believe that is why we need people with the discernment from God. Jesus, as protector, takes even the level of laying his life for us like he did, not the cross.