[Jesus said,] ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
So far in our Lenten journey, we’ve looked at three of Jesus’ “I am” statements. We’ve reflected on Jesus proclaiming he is the bread of life, the light of the world, and the door or gate, all three useful but rather inanimate expressions. Bread, light, and doors are themselves nonliving objects. They may lead to or sustain life but they themselves are not alive so clearly Jesus was speaking metaphorically in his comparisons. This week, his comparison shifts from the nonliving to the living, likening himself to a shepherd or a person who actively feeds, protects, and nurtures other living things. And not just any old shepherd but a good shepherd. He distinguishes himself from other shepherds by adding that adjective, “good.” So what makes him so “good?” Aren’t the acts of feeding, protecting, and nurturing good enough? Why make the distinction of being “good?” Are there bad shepherds? I suppose there are lazy shepherds who don’t feed, protect, or nurture enough but I doubt there are too many bad shepherds out there who don’t feed, protect, or nurture at all. The job of shepherding, by its very nature, is a good, life-giving and life-sustaining job. The title “good shepherd” almost sounds redundant…all shepherds are good by nature! What gives, Jesus?!
Well, Jesus goes on to explain what makes him such a “good” shepherd: “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Few shepherds, if any, expect to have to give up their lives in order to fulfill the requirements of their job. Shepherds are caretakers, not sacrificers. Certainly not self-sacrificers! Shepherds are just doing a job like anyone else. Jobs don’t expect us to give up our lives for them, at least not physically. Jobs may expect us to give up a lot–our time, our resources, our freedom–but most jobs don’t expect us to give up our actual lives for them. That would be counterproductive…who can perform a job if they’re dead?! Jesus takes the job of shepherding to a whole new level. He takes it beyond merely a job. He takes it to a lifestyle, to a matter of life and death. He feeds, protects, and nurtures or else he doesn’t exist. He exists solely to feed, protect, and nurture! Can any of us say we exist solely for the purpose of doing only one or two things?! No, of course not, we exist for a variety of purposes and actions. But maybe, just maybe, we should start focusing our lives and aligning them with Jesus’ life a little more. It sure is a lot simpler, perhaps a lot easier. Just imagine existing solely for the purpose of feeding, protecting, and nurturing other life in this world! The moms among us probably have a pretty good idea of what it’s like. It’s a simple existence but not necessarily an easy existence. There is clarity and affirmation. There is peace and harmony. And, as Jesus suggests, there is goodness. It is good and right to live with such a singular purpose. It is how God lives! God exists to feed, protect, and nurture life…nothing more, nothing less. And who among us doesn’t want to be like God?! It is good and right to be like God. It is good to exist for the existence of others, not necessarily that we exist to die for others. Our lives are deeply intertwined and reliant on each other’s lives. We need each other so let us live for each other. It’s how the Good Shepherd lives for us! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.