Scripture Reading: John 10:11-21, Psalm 23:1-6, Ezekiel 34:11-24, 1 John 3:16
In the ancient world, it was expected and assumed that good citizens would lay down their lives for the glory of their city, their emperor, and their gods. It was certainly not assumed that the gods would lay down their lives for mere mortals. This would have been an embarrassing trespass of carefully established classes and social strata, of which the gods were the highest and most powerful, but not necessarily the most noble or generous.
In our modern world, where our thoughts have been shaped and influenced by two millennia of “Christ-figure” type stories in film, literature, and dramatic works, the Good Shepherd is a bit less surprising. But make no mistake, to Jesus’s listeners, the Good Shepherd, who would lay down His life for His sheep, was radically revolutionary. His sacrifice turned the world of gods and men on its head. Never in their wildest dreams did first century readers assume that the gods would move in such a way.
That Jesus parses out the difference between the true Good Shepherd and hired hands, should give us pause even today as we consider whose power and authority we place our lives and futures under. Are we trusting a political figure to save us from misfortune? Are we looking for a motivational speaker or public thinker to give us the secrets to success? Are we hoping that our spouse or significant other will be the one who will truly light the way to happiness and fulfillment, like our own North Star?
All of these voices can contain wisdom, truth, and love, and they may not be malevolent in their own right. They’re just not enough. Only God can love us perfectly, wholly, and altruistically. Only the Good Shepherd is consistent in laying down His life for His sheep and relentless in pursuing the one who has strayed from the ninety-nine. (Matthew 18:12).
It seems that this parable calls us to a couple of higher realities—the first being to make sure our lives are unequivocally placed under the guidance, correction, and leading of the true Good Shepherd. God’s people know His voice. Test the voices you’re absorbing and channeling against the Word, and be sure to follow the Shepherd in all things.
The second is to follow in the Shepherd’s way. As He lays down His life, so must we. For some of us, especially many of our brave brothers and sisters around the world, this may be a literal laying down. For those of us who aren’t called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, we honor and love the Good Shepherd by choosing to daily lay down our will, preferences, and comforts to love those whom God has placed around us. The embodied love of the Shepherd calls us to love, not in theory, but in action. May we follow His lead.
Written by Andrew Stoddard