Week of August 14, 2013

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

People speak of God often by using metaphors, because metaphors point beyond themselves to a larger reality and suggest that there is more to know of God than human language can ever capture. The Bible employs metaphorical language all the time in speaking of God. One such image or metaphor that is found throughout both the Old Testament and New Testament is that of “the good shepherd.” Of course, Psalm 23 memorably begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 100 affirms, “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” In Ezekiel’s prophesy we read, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…”

To the people of Israel, the image of God as shepherd was a source of comfort and reassurance. It spoke of God’s providence and protection, something good shepherds routinely did for their flocks. So it is little surprise that Jesus also found meaning in this wonderful metaphor. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I know my own and my own know me…I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10). The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one of my favorite, because it is such a comforting and such an evocative picture of God.

Jesus as the good shepherd reminds us that “we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” The Heidelberg Catechism states “That I belong — body and soul, in life and in death — not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” It also reminds us that God cares for us, just as a good shepherd cares for his sheep. “The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep,” said Jesus in John 10:13. Jesus cares for us. Jesus as the good shepherd reminds us that we are cared for and tended, loved and sheltered under the shadow of the Almighty.

Jesus as the good shepherd also makes the claim that God knows us. In baptism God calls us by name and claims us as beloved children. The Psalmist proclaimed, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up: you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely” (Psalm 139). In Jesus Christ, we are known by the One who created us. I have always loved this notion of being known by God and am often deeply moved when I sing the words of the hymn, “Father-like he tends and spares us; well our feeble frame he knows.” God knows me better than I know myself! Better yet, the judgment of Scripture is that God, even in knowing us, loves us and sent His only begotten Son to redeem us.

Jesus as the good shepherd leads us to the beautiful heart of the Gospel — that Jesus laid down his life for us. Good shepherds would literally lie down across the opening of the walled-in stone pens built to protect the sheep at night from predators. A good shepherd would protect the sheep with his own life, which is of course, the central claim of the Gospel. Jesus laid down his life so we could take up ours and live them fully.

Most hopeful of all, though, are Jesus’ last words in this passage in John. “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” This is echoed in other places of the Biblical witness as well, and it suggests that God is not through with us yet, and that the last word will belong to Jesus Christ. Everywhere, the world is haunted by division and violence, and Jesus promises unity and peace. Many have pondered what Jesus was talking about when he said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also…” No one is really sure what Jesus meant by this saying, but it surely means that God is not through with us and that we who follow Jesus are called to introduce any and all to this great love that Jesus the good shepherd has for the world. Jesus came to bring peace and reconciliation to a troubled and deeply divided world, and two thousand years later, the world needs to listen more than ever to his wonderful promise, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Let us live our lives every day in the strength and power of this promise!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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