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Wednesday: the good shepherd

Reflection by Rev. Dr. Roger Webb

For 3 years a famer in Nebraska in the USA had a sheep ranch. Each year he sheared some sheep, sold some, and butchered a few lambs for his family of cattle-raising relatives.

     The farmer then left the ranch and began studying for the ministry.  One Sunday his 3 year old son Ian was learning about the Good Shepherd in his Sunday School class.  

     “Your dad was a shepherd”, the teacher said: “What did he do with the little lambs?” She expected to hear about the care and protection Ian’s father provided for them. “He kills them and cuts off their heads”, was Ian’s answer. The teacher was dumbstruck, and didn’t know how to reply! What could she say?

     For Christian believers the biblical image of the shepherd is a precious and meaningful one. Psalm 23 is an excellent picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The Psalm gives an excellent background for Jesus’ teaching about Himself as the Good Shepherd.  In John chapter 10, Jesus links the characteristics of His ministry to the image of the shepherd as depicted in the Psalm.

“I tell you the truth; anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.                       (John 10: 1-4 NLT)

     However, how meaningful is the biblical image to unbelievers. compared to the sight of today’s Australian sheep farmer. Who, for example, does not lead his sheep from the front, but who drives them forward with his sheep dog, and from horseback or the Quad Bike?  Is there a better image in today’s world that conveys a similar picture to that of Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd?

     What other biblical images of our personal and church life can you think of, which are culturally meaningful in the biblical world, but which do not speak to the world of the non-believer of today? For example: the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7)? Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life (John 6:54) – early Christians were sometimes accused of cannibalism; Jesus saves; the Lamb of God; Holy Ghost; etc. 

I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life 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 own my life for the sheep. (John 10: 11, 14—15; NRSV).

     We can be comforted as we face the challenges and dangers of our Christian walk, knowing that we are protected and led by Jesus, the Good Shepherd. 

     How might we respond to His leading and protection? 

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