A True Shepherd At Last
John 10: 11 — 18
Of all the images of God presented in the Scriptures, that of “the Good Shepherd” seems to have been the most enduring. The Old Testament writers go to great lengths to show that it is one of God’s own favourite titles.
In the lectionary for this week, the Gospel passage is coupled with Ezekiel's prophesy of the true Shepherd. This was very well known by Jesus’ listeners. When he gave his discourse about the Good Shepherd he drew, without any doubt, on this extremely beautiful test. We suggest you read that now in full. (Ezekiel 34: 11 — 16).
Jesus was making a very definite claim: “I am that true shepherd”. When he had finished, half of his listeners, so it seems, looked at each other and declared, “He’s stark raving mad !”. Let's unpack a little of the wealth of meaning it holds for us.
The True Shepherd
In modern times we have a fairly down to earth image in our minds of what a shepherd is and does. Christian art however, has tended to idealise the role and nature of a good shepherd. The image became indelibly stamped in the minds of Jesus’ followers during the first 300 years of indescribable persecution. As one great scholar recorded :
“It was sculptured on the walls of sepulchres and catacombs, it was painted in upper chambers and in oratories, it was traced upon their sacred books, it was graven on the vessels of the altar.” Why?
Jesus often emphasised that he was sent to enable people to enjoy fullness of LIFE. He claimed he carried out his mission in obedience to his Father. He concentrated his efforts not according to what people deserved, but according to their needs. The more hopeless they were, the more concern he showed. So he did this not because of people’s merits but because of the mercy of God. The infant Church saw these qualities reflected most in the image of the True Shepherd.
In our short passage, Jesus presents his credentials as he lays claim to this sublime title. First, “I lay down my life for my sheep, and I take it up again, in obedience to my Father”. Secondly, “I know my sheep, and they know me just as the Father and I know each other.” But having said that he is quick to add, “There are other sheep beyond this flock and I must go out to them and lead them home. This I yearn to do.”
Throughout the 2 millennia of the Church, Christians have always rejoiced that Jesus calls people in the first instance not to an ideology, a doctrine, nor a system of thought or even religious practice. He calls them to himself. This unique passage is about our calling to enter into the love of the Holy Trinity — model of all true communities.
That is the true fulfilment of all that God has promised his people, and as the Good Shepherd explains, he has been commanded to make sure it happens.
How Does This Help Us Understand Prayer and Meditation?
In this passage, an enormous responsibility is laid on the shoulders of the True Shepherd. There is only one word to indicate the responsibility of those in the shepherd’s care. If the sheep are to belong to his flock; if they are to know the Shepherd, then they must “LISTEN” to his voice.
In this context, it is not the sound to which they must be attuned, but rather to what he is saying!
Prayer and meditation, as taught in this website, is the ancient and venerable practice of LISTENING to what God says in and through his WORD — and for us that is Jesus: Word made flesh (John 1: 14). This requires disciplined training. It takes time, energy, and talent. We may think we are not very good at it, but there is no command in all Scripture that we must succeed. We are simply called to participate in the mutual loving and knowing of the Father and the Son. This is one of the great treasures of Jesus’ teaching. This is prayer supreme, and every Christian is invited to take their place in it. All may. All can — if they LISTEN. Blessed be the Holy Name of God.
Life in the Good Shepherd's Flock
John 10: 11 — 18
Some Notes On Our Text
Jesus, in the earlier part of chapter 10, has been talking about shepherds and sheepfolds. Now he becomes even more specific in what he says as his listeners are very familiar with the Biblical imagery he is using. “I am the good shepherd", he says, and he goes on to outline the duties of a good shepherd rather than his rights. He himself is the model shepherd, concerned more with the needs of his sheep, than his own.
In the rest of this section of his teaching, Jesus distinguishes himself from those may appear to be shepherds but who in fact are not “true” shepherds. So, what is the difference between the “hired hand” and himself? Ownership! Jesus on several occasions talked of his disciples as those who had been given to him by his Father. He is talking about a special relationship at a very special level and he would never, ever, ever, abandon his flock. Why? The answer comes at the end of verse 13.
Jesus is devoted to his flock in a loving, affectionate, personal relationship. The hired hand however, “cares nothing” for the sheep. This not only explains why he can abandon the sheep, but also emphasises the point of difference between him and the ideal shepherd.
Again Jesus repeats the key concept: “I am the good shepherd”. He now expands his second claim. He is the true shepherd because he KNOWS his sheep AND is known by them. This mutual knowledge gives rise to mutual confidence and willing obedience.
To “know” in the Hebrew, Biblical meaning of the word has several aspects:
Jesus implies, “I know my sheep — I know their hearts, wishes, purposes, circumstances, and I approve of them”.
In the same breath, Jesus explains a great treasure of his teaching. The knowledge of sheep and shepherd is an extension of the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son. So he communicates to his followers his knowledge of the Father. (He is talking of likeness, which is what is important, not equality). Jesus is talking, in fact about the “fold” of the Holy Trinity — which is the fountain of all pure love and knowledge which God's creatures have for one another. Life in the Good Shepherd’s flock is indeed God’s way of including us in the mutual love of the Holy Trinity. That is why Jesus quickly adds “and I lay down my Life for the sheep”. That is, I lay down my life for the sake of this shared existence between Sheep and Shepherd, Son and Father.
But Jesus has the same affection and loving concern for sheep “that are not of this flock”. They are his, just the same. When he says “I must bring him also”, he conveys pressing urgency, depth of concern and equal commitment to satisfying their needs. The way to eternal life is the same for those in or beyond the flock he is talking about: All hear Jesus’ voice as the voice of God and respond with faith. When Jesus says, “I must bring them also”, he means impel, not compel; to lead along, to take with one, to bear with. As a shepherd, he leads and does not drive! He is with his flock AT ALL TIMES, and never leaves them unattended. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit this presence is maintained, but at a high cost, as he has twice reminded them.
Again we are brought back to the mutual love of the Father and Son: and it rests on Jesus’ complete obedience, in laying down his life, taking it up again, and sharing it with his “Flock” through the gift of himself in the spirit. May we also, through the Spirit of Christ, share in the fullness of life which can be ours on account of the dedication of Jesus to God’s holy will.
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