In one of the most memorable of the great “I am” speeches of
Jesus in John (I am the vine, and so on), we come to Jesus’
description of himself as the good shepherd, known to his flock
by way of his voice. This divine voice can be heard, trusted, and
followed. Through the guidance of this voice, the disciple finds
life in its fullness.
But unlike the contemporaries of Jesus, how many of us in
2017 have even seen a flock of sheep or know anything about
the ancient practices of a shepherd? Three decades ago I looked
down from what is called the Mount of the Beatitudes across
the landscape of Galilee in Israel. Crossing the top of a narrow
ridge was an agile man followed by a single file of several dozen
sheep. Unlike the herds of cattle I’d seen on the farms of Tennessee,
this flock was making a treacherous journey by following
their lone shepherd. Led, not prodded from behind or beside,
they made their way.
Many children growing up in church, asked to memorize
Psalm 23, are introduced to the enduring metaphor of God’s care
for us as a good shepherd. Over a lifetime we discover Jesus is
such a guardian whom we can follow and trust. In these verses
of John 10 we learn that before the practices of branding or
earmarks, the flock had to recognize and respond to the voice of
the one to whom they belonged—or be left behind and lost. In
the communal livestock pens of an ancient village, several flocks
might be sheltered together. With each new day the shepherd
called out his flock, leading them to pasture and water. Safety
from predators depended on the willingness of the sheep to
respond only to the unique voice of their own keeper if each
was to reach full maturity and life.
Loving Shepherd, deepen our capacity to recognize and respond to your guiding voice. Amen.
Three of the texts use the image of shepherd and sheep. Psalm 23 and John 10 picture the familiar relationship of trust that sheep exhibit toward the shep- herd. The shepherd places himself between the dependent sheep and the aggressive enemy to ward off destruction and exploitation. John 10 and 1 Peter 2 introduce the costly price paid for protection. The sheep’s safety comes with immense and undeserved sacrifice. In 1 Peter 2, the shepherd’s sacrifice makes possible the return of wayward sheep who have wandered away from the shepherd’s protection.
• Read Acts 2:42-47. How has joining with other believers in prayer, fellowship, and study strengthened your faith?
• Read Psalm 23. What narrow passages of life have you navigated? Upon whom did you depend during that time?
• Read 1 Peter 2:19-25. When have you encountered unjust suffering? What redemptive value did it hold for you?
• Read John 10:1-10. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” How have you allowed Jesus to be the gate to your discipleship?
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