Thursday, 22 April 2021

The Good Shepherd - Not just a Stained Glass Image

 Well, ever since that dog chased Grendel across the desk during my Facebook service recording, it appears I've adopted a dog. We traced the owners through the microchip service, but all they did was scream down the phone. An interesting character - half collie, half St Bernard. Which means he has the urge to chase sheep, but loses interest after a quick run because it's too much effort.

Still, that quick run is always amusing if we've insisted Burton Dasset takes him for a walk. I've seen Burton dragged across an entire field because Tommo's herding instincts took over, until the sitting down instincts reasserted themselves.

But it's made me think about sheperds and sheep more. Those fluffy losers, often to be seen laying on their backs in fields in the morning dew. That's the sheep, not the shepherds. In a modern, go-ahead world we think of them mostly as commodities. Not the valuable thing any pastoral animal would have been in the 1st Century. I was intrigued to discover however that even today farmers do have a way of knowing which sheep is which. They give them squad numbers so they can tell which lamb belongs to which ewe. 

Ewe with Lamb - Numbers 76
Come in number 76

Whereas with Jesus, it's every hair on our head that is numbered - not just one number per adult sheep. Still, it helps to look after the lambs, I guess.

I also discovered that if a sheep headbutts a lamb, it's either not that sheep's lamb, or the ewe has taken against her own lamb. Just goes to show. It's no life being a lamb. You may think it's all frisking around in the open air, but there's agressive mothers, random other sheep,  and mint sauce to worry about.

We've got some lovely songs about Jesus the Good Shepherd. And some lovely stained-glass window and Illustrated Bible pictures - which we normally mix up with the Lost Sheep and get two parables for the price of one. And Jesus as the Good Shepherd looking for the Lost Sheep is a lovely image isn't it? And a meaningful one. Especially if you're a lost sheep or a just-found one.

But "I am the Good Shepherd" is also one of Jesus's "I Am" statements. Alongside the Bread of Life, and Light of the World, and "Before Abraham was I Am."  So it's a bit more profound that just Jesus looking after us - great though that is.

It's a direct claim, I think. Israel has always had a shepherd. It once had a shepherd king - David - but thereafter the kings who followed him were always going off the rails, forgetting about God, and losing interest in the things they were supposed to be protecting - foreigners, orphans, widows - just generally the most vulnerable people.

And God repeatedly told them they were bad shepherds.

It's worth reading all the prophets in the Old Testament. Then you get gems like Zechariah where the shepherds exploit the sheep. And Ezekiel 34 where God tells the bad shepherds that from now on, God will look after God's flock.

So when Jesus says "I am the Good Shepherd" , he is stating his equality with God. He is taking God's job on.

So what does that mean for us? It means that God the Son is our shepherd. We are his flock. We depend on Jesus - we stay close to Jesus. Depend on him for the care and attention we need. He knows our weaknesses, loves us and died for us.

And if we're a flock - there's a corporate responsibility. Flocks stick together. There's safety in the numbers of a flock. That's why sheep act in sheepy ways - if Tommo the Dog barks at them going into their field, generally speaking they join together in a mass stampede.

I was walking across a local estate - one of these diversified ones that do everything from stately homes tours to business conference centres to high-wire climbing - and they also do the normal, sheepy stuff in their rolling acres of course. And a chap in a Land Rover drove up and stopped and looked carefully at a ewe with a couple of lambs. And he told me he was a bit worried that a ewe was rejecting a lamb. "Oh,' I said. "Are you the shepherd?"

 " No, " he replied, "I work on the golf course." 

 I've mixed the metaphor up a bit here but I hope you get where I'm coming from. The flock is not a bunch of individuals. Its sum is greater than its parts, and it exists to protect its members. We don't ignore the needs of members of the flock because it's not our job, or we don't care for that particular sheep. We collectively care for all the members of the flock, because they belong to our shepherd. The relationship isn't just vertical, as they'd probably still say in business. It's also horizontal. We live and thrive as one flock, not as multitudes of individual sheep. But we are one flock because we all belong to the Good Shepherd. The one prepared to die for his sheep.

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