I did not grow up knowing any shepherds. I lived in Iowa so there were plenty of farmers. They often tended to livestock in addition to their corn fields. But the bond Jesus is talking about between a shepherd and his sheep goes so much deeper than what I think of for a present-day farmer and his herd. If you are a farmer and I am mistaken, please forgive me and let me know.
If the people were a bit confused over the whole gate analogy in yesterday’s reading, Jesus again challenges them. This passage is such a beautiful picture of how Jesus cares for us. It brings tears to my eyes as I treasure all of the hidden meanings.
Jesus claims to be a good shepherd. He says, “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” Little did they know how true this was. They would be there to see it played out before their eyes. A shepherd takes his job very seriously and cares deeply for his flock. It is more than a job, it is as if they were emotionally connected.
Why does Jesus say this about himself, that he will sacrifice his life? Because “I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.” Again, there is a such a deep, rich meaning here that probably went right over the heads of those hearing him speak. The intimacy between God the Father and God the Son is a beautiful bond of understanding and trust. Similar, in fact, to that of a sheep and it’s master.
Jesus has taken on the role of Messiah and “[t]he Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again.” The sacrifice Jesus has already made to leave his kingdom and become human is unimaginable. Yet what is to come will change the world forever. Literally. When you think of what Jesus sacrificed for you, how does that make you feel? Take a moment to share your thankfulness.
As Jesus’ life unfolds and people encounter him, they have no idea of his true mission. The Messiah they were expecting was supposed to save them in a mighty way. The people just didn’t think big enough, or mighty enough. Fighting an earthly battle is nothing a man cannot do, but fighting a spiritual battle on earth is what only God can do.
Jesus said, “For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” He was talking about his own life. He was telling them what was going to happen. I doubt anyone understood, at least at this moment. But it’s helpful to remember Jesus’ death was at the command of God, and at the time Jesus allowed. It was never meant to be permanent. Jesus would rise and take his life back.
It takes a huge leap of faith to believe it all. What helps is to remember how big God is. We tend to put him in a box, limited by our feeble understanding of the world. There is so much beyond our comprehension in just the world around us. Why should we ever think we can understand the creator? Why should we even try?
Yet many of us try to play God. We judge the actions of others as inappropriate. We try to solve problems that aren’t necessarily meant to be solved in the way we are trying. We are looking through such a limited scope of vision. God can see it all. God knows all. We are but specks in his creation, Yet, he loves us without measure.
Some people aren’t yet part of the sheepfold. They don’t recognize the voice of the great Shepherd. That is God’s desire to gather every one of us to himself. As I see it, we have a long way to go before that becomes reality. The heart of God must be breaking.
Our world is crumbling around us from sin. It always has been. Now it seems our sinful behavior has hurt our planet, and it is also in peril. How can we make a difference? Are there people in our circles we can invite into God’s family? Are there ways we can help the planet to recover or at least slow down the rate of destruction?
We need to be listening for the shepherd’s voice. We are his sheep and he is crazy about us. Take some extra time today to be quiet in the presence of our great Shepherd.
Let’s pray. Lord, I come to you on my knees. May I just sit here quietly and listen for your voice. I am overflowing with gratefulness for all that you have done for me. Fill me anew with your wisdom and strength for this day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.