Shepherd and Sheep

I stopped my car fast. Sheep ran towards me, 8 abreast, filling the quiet country lane. Would they collide with the car or get to the dangerous crossroads? No sign of shepherd or sheepdog. Had someone accidentally left a gate open? Had the sheep found their freedom? 'Yippee! We can run wherever we like! The grass might be greener up the hill!' I didn't know where they were going. Were these sheep going astray with no-one to protect them from danger except me? What should I do – and quickly?

Large and dirty woolly creatures soon surrounded me, with a few tiny lambs running on tarmac for the first time. I was so relieved when the shepherd chugged round the bend on his quad bike, calling to his border collie, who was running from one ditch to the other, moving the stragglers wanting to graze on the grass verges. I could relax and assume the shepherd knew what he was doing.

I think Jesus knew what he was doing when he said, "I am the good shepherd." It was a dangerous metaphor to use, claiming he was the model or ideal shepherd. For hundreds of years his people had used the Shepherd image when speaking of God. In Jacob’s last words to his sons he referred to
"...the God who has been my shepherd all my life..." (Genesis 48: 15) 
Similar imagery was used by the prophets. In Isaiah (40:11) God is said to feed his flock like a shepherd, carrying the lambs and gently leading the mother sheep. Then there’s that familiar psalm of David, (Psalm 23), “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”

Jesus added a new dimension to this picture by claiming that as the good shepherd he was laying down his life for the sheep. Dangerous words. Many of his enemies said "He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?" In the end we each have to make up our own minds about whether or not we hear Jesus' voice and really listen to him, so we may follow where he leads - or not.

Photo of shepherd leading sheep by Neil Cummings

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Common Worship, Post Communion Prayer 4th Sunday of Easter © The Archbishops' Council)

This post is the 28th in a series of daily Lenten reflections based on a Bible reading from the Common Worship Lectionary of the Church of England. This one is based on John 10: 11 - 21.


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