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Reflection on the Word – ‘Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd’
JCFL Prayer Vigil, 16th April 2015
Rev. Dominic Grant (Trinity United Reformed Church, Wimbledon)

It has to be said, there’s something really rather contrary about sheep.Jesus Christ, The Good Shepherd

They seem to know that it’s worth sticking with the herd, that there’s safety in numbers – yet it doesn’t take much to make them scatter in all directions, isolating themselves as easy pickings for a predator.

Then again, drive your car along a rural road through fields where sheep are grazing, and you’ll find that they scuttle out of immediate danger, then immediately stop to eat some more grass as if nothing had happened.

So it’s probably no coincidence that in the context of our wider culture, any kind of analogy with sheep tends to be just a bit unfavourable. We say that someone is ‘sheepish’ if they’re too shy or embarrassed to assert themselves. If we’ve been overcharged for something, we call it ‘being fleeced’. And as political manifestos are published and publicised, no doubt we’ll even be describing ideas or policies that we don’t like as ‘woolly’.

What does it mean, then, for us to read and hear words of Scripture in which our walk with God is described in terms of the relationship between sheep and shepherd? For all our familiarity with the Biblical imagery, mightn’t our own experience with the animal leave us feeling that calling God’s people a flock of sheep is not terribly flattering?

Well, contrary they may be, but within the thought-world of the Bible, the thought-world into which tonight we are invited, there is another truth at play. For this is the world in which the memories of nomadic patriarchs still loom large: Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, whose wealth was measured in their livestock. In this world, we find that the flock is far more than just an assembly of wilful and troublesome beasts to be herded and contained. Here the flock is a noble asset, a precious possession by whose size and quality the status of the owner might be measured.

And by extension, as God’s people of old pondered the role of their King, it seemed natural to them to think of a Shepherd.

It’s an association that stems from the Old Testament. King Saul had been intended not only to rule, but also to save the Israelites from their enemies; and of course in King David who followed him, we see the archetypal combination of shepherd and king.

Furthermore, the great prophets of the Judean Exile all looked forward to the kingly figure of God’s deliverer (whom we call Messiah) and described him as a shepherd. And thus it is that (as we have heard this evening) the word of the LORD was spoken through Ezekiel against the false and faithless shepherd-rulers over Israel, those who had been content to see the flock scattered so long as they (the shepherds) could still feed themselves. Thus it is that Ezekiel affirmed God himself was coming as a shepherd.

So when Jesus speaks of himself as a Shepherd, he is emphasising the authority which God has given him over the people – and also the honour and deference to which he should be entitled. But more significantly, he is pointing to the activity of protecting and liberating his flock – the essence, the heart, of his kingly ministry.

Because to Jesus Christ, the flock is precious. Each life within the flock is precious – precious enough for the Good Shepherd himself to lay down his very life.

Therefore we gather, in humble awe that Christ Jesus should value us so dearly. That we, in all our contrariness, all our sheepish folly and woolly thinking, should matter so much in God’s sight that God’s very Son comes to find us, to call us by name, to rescue and bring us home.

This, friends, is the affirmation of Scripture for us tonight: that Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. And whatever we might do or fail to do, his love for us – the lengths to which he will go for us – cannot be diminished. Perhaps indeed this may be the one thing above all that your heart needs to hear tonight: that you are precious and beloved in the sight of Christ Jesus. So rejoice in his shepherd-care and be at peace.

And there is a further affirmation:

For Jesus speaks of other sheep also, sheep that have not belonged to this fold or flock but which must yet be brought in, to share in and be made part of the one flock under the one shepherd.

And as the Apostle indicates, this mission is to be lived out among us in patterns of willing and joyful mutual care, eager and free from selfish concern.

In other words, don’t imagine that it’s the end of the story for the flock to gather in the warmth and security of a familiar sanctuary, cut off from the cares of the world outside. For as Christ is the Good Shepherd, so we and all who are in Christ are caught-up in the venturesome love by which the Shepherd still seeks sheep to gather.

So let this moment here, encourage and strengthen us for our walk of obedience and care beyond these walls.

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