Shepherds
Our Gospel this Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday, moves us away from the stories about the resurrection appearances which we have been considering since Easter. This week we will look at what Scripture has to say about shepherds. We will do this a little differently to the reflections we’ve had so far and make use of a picture each day.

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus calls himself the gate of the sheepfold. Elsewhere in this chapter of John, he calls himself the Good Shepherd. His words are about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, so we will look at what this means for us. How does the Shepherd care for us, and what is our response to the Good Shepherd in our day to day living? You can read the passage in the Gospel of John chapter 10.

Sunday / Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday / Friday / Saturday

Sunday
Why does Jesus call himself the good Shepherd? Aren’t all shepherds good — taking care of their sheep and looking after their flock? We have this rather idyllic view of shepherds, wandering the hills with their dogs and getting little lambs out of trouble. We think of them as a group of caring people who have a love of their animals, which of course, most of them do. But, at the time of Jesus, shepherds were not seen in this light at all. Shepherds were viewed with great suspicion; thought to be a rough and ready lot and as likely to rip you off as to care for your sheep. Distrusted and largely despised, they were most definitely on the margins of society. Which is why, In Luke’s Gospel, it comes as a surprise that it is the shepherds, the bad lot, the poor and marginalised who were the first to visit the Christ child. It is this dirty, illiterate, poor and despised group who see the vision of angels and make their way to the newborn king before anyone else.

So, in the popular thought of the day, shepherds were “bad”, not “good”. Jesus turns what is thought to be bad into good. His image is of a good shepherd who takes his task of caring for the sheep very seriously.

The foremost task of the shepherd (and the shepherdess for the job was often given to girls — we have references to this in the books of Genesis and Exodus) was to carefully guard and pasture the sheep. In other words, to look after them.

How do you think they might have done this? You might want to think about:

  • Leading them to pasture and water
  • Caring for the injured
  • Getting the sheep out of trouble
  • Protecting them
  • Sheltering the sheep
  • Knowing the sheep

Consider the picture:

Ponder: What does this tell you about Jesus your good shepherd?
Take your time over this. Let ideas surface and tell the Lord whatever arises for you from the scene.

Pray: today for all shepherds — of whatever kind.

You might like to say this prayer every day this week.

Prayer for the week

Lord, you are my shepherd,
You are my friend.
I want to be with you always,
Just to follow my friend.

(This is from the song “Because the Lord is my Shepherd” by Christopher Walker – you might like to download the song and use the musical version as your prayer every day).

Monday — The Shepherd protects
Jesus said, “I am the gate of the sheepfold

In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus paints a word picture of himself as “the gate of the sheepfold”. Behind this image is the awareness that when it got to night-time the sheep might be the target of predators of one sort or another. So, shepherds would gather their sheep into small stone corals or sheepfolds for safety. This was a “U” shape and had no gate across the top of the “U”. Instead, come night-time, the shepherd would lie down using his own body as a “closed gate”. So, Jesus is giving us a picture of the fact that he is the one who will, and did, put his life on the line in order to protect the sheep he loves from whatever threatens them. Wolves might trample and destroy such a fragile body — and indeed at the crucifixion we see that body torn apart for love of us.

Consider the picture:

Ponder If this pen was full of sheep on a cold dark night, what might you feel if you were one of them?
What does the protection of Jesus mean to you?)

Pray: thank God for the way he cares for you.
Pray: for those who feel threatened, those suffering from domestic abuse or any form of violence against them.

You may like to say the prayer for the week

Tuesday — The Shepherd leads
Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me.

To be known is what makes life worthwhile. To know that others know me, that I am loved and valued, cared for and appreciated is a gift beyond price. To really know someone is to share in their life and let them share theirs with you. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that he knows us as his own and we can know him in this deep way. We share in his life and he wants us to share our lives with him. This is pure gift. Just as the sheep don’t ask the shepherd to care for them but accept without question that he does so we can be absolutely certain that we are known in this deep way. What does this mean to you?

Consider the picture:

Ponder: What does this picture say about what it means that we are known by the shepherd and we can know him? What difference does it make to think this way?

Pray: that you will come closer to the Lord and he to you.

Pray: For all those who feel unloved and those who feel no one knows or cares about them.

You might like to use the prayer for the week

Wednesday — Following the voice of the Shepherd
Jesus said, “He (the Shepherd) goes ahead of them and the sheep follow because they know his voice.”

A good shepherd knows the sheep — not just as a flock but as individuals. Jesus puts it this way “the sheep hear his voice; one by one he calls his own sheep”. This means that, as we thought about yesterday, each one of us is known. We are also called to follow wherever the shepherd leads. The question for us is, do we recognise his voice as he calls us on our faith journey? Where do we hear it? What does that voice tell us to do or become?

Consider the picture:

 

Ponder If one of these footprints is yours and one is the Lord’s what does this say about your relationship. Where might these prints be going? Would you want to put the prints in a different configuration? Think broadly and take your time. Turn your thoughts into prayer.

Pray: for those who are leading us during this pandemic that they will follow the right path.

You might like to use the prayer for the week

Thursday — The Shepherd takes the sheep to pasture and water
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life”.

Jesus didn’t invent this image of the shepherd to describe how God cares. In the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) God is often referred to as the shepherd of Israel. Indeed, he is the only shepherd that can be trusted. The psalms, in particular, proclaim God as the one who leads his people to new pasture or water. Verses like “Shepherd of Israel, listen, you who lead Joseph like a flock (Psalm 80) or “We are His people, the flock of his sheepfold”. (Psalm 100) are not uncommon. The most well-known is Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd… in grassy meadows he lets me lie, by tranquil streams he leads me.”

The task of the shepherd is to ensure the flock has water and food. So, the shepherd was always on the move leading (or following) the flock so that they may find what they need. God is always leading us to new things, new experiences of life which feed us; new ways of understanding how he journeys with us so that we may have life in all its fullness.

Consider the picture:

 

Ponder: The Shepherd feeds the sheep — in this picture, there is no green grass so the shepherd is providing the food. How does God feed you? Think broadly and take your time.

Pray: That you will be open to receive the life God has to offer to you.

Pray: for those who are physically hungry at this time and for the work of our Food Bank as it seeks to support them.

You might like to use the prayer for the week

Friday — The Shepherd shelters the sheep
Jesus said, “Anyone who enters (the sheepfold) through me will be safe”.

The role of the shepherd is to ensure the sheep are kept safe. Dangers are many. Sheep can wander off, be prey to predators, fail to find pasture or water, eat poisonous plants, get diseases. Jesus says that anyone who is in his flock will be safe. His task is to shelter them from harm. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets have some very harsh things to say about the kings and priests and leaders of the people who are called shepherds but who fail to shelter their people. These shepherds don’t shelter the sheep; they don’t protect them, and rather than getting sheep out of trouble they lead them into it. Jesus has some of this in mind when he talks about the “all who have come before are thieves and bandits” deserting the sheep. So, there are two ideas here. First, we are called both to know that the Lord shelters us and to live in trust that this is real and can be relied on and, secondly, to be good shepherds ourselves and to shelter others in whatever way the Lord leads us to.

Consider the picture:

Ponder: What does going into the bus shelter offer these sheep?
In what way does the Lord ask you to be a “bus shelter” for others? Take your time over this.

Pray: that the Lord will guide you as you shepherd others and shelter them.

Pray: That you will be open to receive the life God has to offer to you.

Pray: for those who are physically hungry at this time and for the work of our Food Bank as it seeks to support them.

You might like to use the prayer for the week

Saturday — The Shepherd comes to the rescue
Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

No matter how diligent the shepherd, sheep do get into trouble. They do need rescuing. Jesus uses this idea in his parable of the lost sheep which you can find in Luke chapter 15. The good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine who are doing fine and goes after the one who needs help. This well-known parable suggests that every one of the flock is worth saving, no matter what trouble they have managed to get themselves into. And furthermore, the shepherd will not rest until that lost sheep is recovered even if it means putting himself in harm’s way. So, how has the Lord rescued you in the past? What does it say about the person of Jesus that he will go to the extent of “laying down his life” for you?

Consider the picture:

Ponder: When have you felt cut off behind a fence needing rescue? Recall any events in the past or present situations. Take your time over this.

Pray: that the Shepherd will always come to your rescue. Thank God for always forgiving you.

Pray: for those coming to the rescue of those affected by Coronavirus.

You might like to use the prayer for the week

4th Sunday of Easter
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