Apr 22

Rev Gav

Why did Jesus call himself ‘the Good Shepherd’?

There is only one ‘good’ shepherd, right, and that is God? Yet, Jesus called himself the ‘Good Shepherd’.

There is this idea in the Bible that goes back centuries and millennia, that God is like a shepherd. When God formed a community to be his representatives to the world, he chose, not city-dwellers or those in palaces, but a nomadic people — people who lived in tents and moved their people and their animals from pasture to pasture, water to water. Therefore, to this community there was no more fitting analogy of what God was like than as a shepherd who tends his flock. The Old Testament books are littered with the metaphor. For example, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” and the Psalmist writes, “Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them for ever.” Therefore, if you asked any of Jesus’ contemporaries who was the good shepherd, there would be only one answer and that would be, “The Lord in heaven above,” yet, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.”

Today, we use the word good to mean ‘good behaviour’ or we say that someone is a ‘good person’, meaning that they are good on the inside, however the Greek world ‘kalos’ means both. To be ‘kalos’ is an outward, visible sign of having an inward worthy, noble, and honorable character. It is not just a moral concept, but something that has to be visible; something acted upon; something with positive physical consequences. Therefore, when Jesus said he is the ‘good shepherd’ he meant that this goodness is visible and seen and a reflection of the true goodness that is on the inside. Despite saying, “I am the good Shepherd,” Jesus, in also said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone,” and I wonder if he said it with a wink.

The thing with shepherds, like all humans, was they were a mixed bag, and there were all kinds of shepherds. Unfortunately, some were a disgrace to their calling. They were false shepherds who deserted their flocks in time of danger, or inexperienced shepherds who were unable to find good pasture. There were worthless shepherds too. By saying that he was the good shepherd, Jesus was communicating that he was not like a human shepherd, for unlike a human shepherd or a hired hand, he laid down his life for his sheep. He loved us and cared for us so much that he would do anything for us — even give his life for us.

Sheep, without a shepherd, are prone to get lost and into trouble and sheep need the shepherd. They need to stay close to the shepherd for sustenance and safety, and a good shepherd knows his flock and they know him. This can only come about through spending time with each other, and because the sheep know him and recognise his voice they listen to him and follow him.

Do we recognise the good shepherd? Do we hear his voice? Do we listen to him and follow him?

Did you know that April 25th is St. Mark’s Day — a day when we celebrate the mission and ministry of St. Mark’s Church, the church that I pastor. It is also the 80th anniversary of The St. Mark’s Guild, a group called to serve and tend the church. Last Sunday also happened to be Vocations Sunday and this week we also think about and pray for those called to serve the church through lay and ordained ministries. We, like Jesus, are called to be God’s shepherds. We are commissioned to be Jesus to the world. We are filled with the Spirit of Jesus — God’s Holy Spirit. We are called to continue God’s mission to bless the world that the world might know that God is God. We are called to shepherd one another and to be shepherds in our communities — both local and afar, calling the lost sheep and bringing them back into God’s fold. It is my calling and it your calling.

So, today, may you know Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and hear his voice. May you listen to him and follow him, and may you fulfil his calling to be like him and be a shepherd for him.

Holy God,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
Thank you for all you give to us;
For green pastures and still waters.
We long to know you as you know us.
Help us to hear your voice and to follow you.
Lord, raise from among our number
Those that are called to lead your flock.
And help us to be good shepherds.
This day, now and forever,
Amen.

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