We might think that looking after sheep is a simple, menial task, but it isn’t. “I am the good shepherd” is the fourth of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus, recorded only in John’s Gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to Jesus’ identity and purpose. When Jesus declares he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, we cannot help but consider how this relates to us today.
Two reflections are borne from this profound ‘I am’ statement; that we are like sheep that need herding by the right shepherd, and that Jesus’ love and concern for us is similar to that of a shepherd for his sheep. Sheep can be pretty stubborn, and they will usually follow the crowd. So, if there’s a rogue sheep wanting to stray and wander in a different direction, then with not too much persuasion, the other sheep could easily blindly follow and end up going the wrong way. We can be like sheep in so many ways. It might only take one distraction to spark many, one unhelpful thought to turn into an attitude, one unkind action to turn into a set of behaviours, one unhelpful friend who turns into a negative influence. It is essential that we seek out and hold onto the Good Shepherd who will care for us – his sheep.
How is Jesus the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and cares for them individually. We see that illustrated in the parable of the lost sheep. A shepherd had 100 sheep and found that one had gone missing. What did he do? Did he write the sheep off as an economic loss? No! He left the other 99 and went off to find the one that was lost. And we read that when he found it, he came home rejoicing! Shepherds protect their sheep. David was a shepherd before he became King. It was as a shepherd that he killed Goliath. The Good Shepherd protects his sheep.
The Good Shepherd wants what is best for his sheep. Jesus says in just the verse before “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full”. God wants our very best. He wants us to have a rich and full life, and he wants us to spend eternity with him. Easter coming up soon reminds us that Christ the Good Shepherd indeed laid down his life for his sheep. Jesus loves us so much that he wants us to know him and experience all that this life can offer with him. He is not going to give us up to the enemy – to the wolves that creep around the sheep pen. But to be safe, we, like sheep, need to stay close to the shepherd.