Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday, celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. According to the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus proclaims that he is the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
Now all of this would have made a great deal of sense to the people Jesus spoke to directly. They knew all about sheep. For those of us who live in a world of minivans, suburban cul-de-sacs, grocery stores and the internet, the closest most of us come to sheep is buying a new sweater at the mall. A little knowledge of sheep will help clarify what Jesus is really telling us.
First, sheep are completely defenseless. They can’t run fast, nor can they fight predators. A shepherd and a sheep dog are necessary to keep predators away.
Sheep are also naturally social. They like being around each other and around people, so long as they are well treated. Sheep cannot thrive in isolation.
Sheep are followers. The sheep that starts walking first is the leader – not necessarily because it’s the strongest or smartest, but because it started to walk first. Sheep – sometimes to their peril – follow.
Sheep like the predictable and they scare rather easily. A good shepherd is gentle, firm and keeps the sheep calm.
Sheep have a reputation for being, well, rather … dumb. Of course, they are not rational beings, with the ability to make decisions based on facts, past experiences, the advice of others, etc. They simply do sheep things.
With all this in mind, Jesus as the Good Shepherd perhaps will be more meaningful. He is saying to us that He will defend us against evil. He is telling us that He knows we do not thrive in isolation; His church, his flock, must depend on each other in order to thrive as we seek His will.
Jesus knows we human beings are followers. We warn our tweens and teens about peer pressure, but we can all fail prey to it. We need to know that we follow Christ.
While humans are not dumb, we do dumb things. We don’t always do what we know is best. We make stupid, hurtful decisions. We sin. Jesus knows this about us. And He wants better for us, so He asks us to follow Him. He will not lead us astray.
The hymn, The King of Love My Shepherd Is, has this lovely verse:
Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.
We are led astray, but Christ is gentle and loving. He seeks out His sheep, and brings us home.