The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one that has endured across the centuries of the Christian Church. The image of the young Jesus as the shepherd bringing home the stray or wounded lamb has been found on the walls of the catacombs, and a statue of the Good Shepherd has also been found dating back to only 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, despite its popularity – or perhaps because of its popularity – there have been two unfortunate elements that have entered into our understanding of this image.
The first is the propensity of Christian ministers to adopt the title of pastor and this understanding for ourselves. But what is clear in the Gospel of John 10 is that there is only one Shepherd who is noble or beautiful (better translations than ‘good’) and that is Jesus the Messiah. All Christians are as sheep in comparison to the Lord – which means we are all rather stupid, smelly and tend to wander away and get lost. All of us need to be pastored by the Lord.
The second has also always been a problem, but with shrinking church attendance and membership is becoming more problematic. This is the tendency to understand the image of the shepherd in very safe and friendly terms. We picture the shepherd as the one who leads the sheep back into the nice, safe and warm sheepfold of the church. But in fact the image that is used at the beginning of John 10 is of Jesus leading the sheep out of the sheepfold into the broad and good lands that lie beyond the safety of the church yard. It is out in the wilderness that the church really needs the safety and protection of the Lord.
Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year B. Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am)