Jesus said. "I am the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep".
I thank God for this time of year as we see more sunshine, lockdown beginning to lift and we have the opportunity of venturing into the countryside. You can't go far before you will see and hear sheep. What a lovely reading for this time of year!
A closer look at the reading reveals more than a simple metaphor for the loving way that God relates to his children. The question emerges, who exactly are the sheep to whom Jesus refers?
Sheep can be lovely! If you are enjoying a picnic they are likely to join you. You may get a hug and feel their soft and thick coats. They have limited means of defence so they can be vulnerable.
Jesus says he knows His own and they know Him. Surely God knows everyone, but Jesus does not seem to be talking about everyone. Many do not know Him. Those who have come to Christ, have started the journey in relationship with Him, enjoy fellowship and allow Him to change them from the inside so that they may grow into being the person He wants them to be. For this reason, He gave the Holy Spirit as our mentor as we travel. Jesus is part of us and he hears us. We also know His voice, so when we hear something, we may discern if it really has come from Him. Do not be too surprised when God speaks.
In the last chapter of John's gospel, after Jesus had risen from the dead, He asks Peter, to his annoyance, "Do you love me?"
Peter reacts; "What to do you mean? Of course I love you."
Jesus replies, "Then feed my sheep."
What have we to feed others with? We have His Word, the love story written in the gospels and words of kind gossip about his boundless goodness and reassurance for others as they climb the rocky pathway.
Jesus says the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John in his first letter therefore says, surely we should lay down our lives for one another. Jesus literally gave his life for the sheep as some disciples did later. Laying down one's life does not mean that we too will end up on a cross, though with the way the world seems to be going, it cannot be ruled out.
Laying down one's life shouldn't mean that we become a doormat for others to wipe their feet on, though I think many of us have been there and done that. Laying down your life could mean being prepared, being ready and willing to put aside all that we might want to do, spend time with God and ask Him to show us His way. "God, what do you want me to do? Who should I see, to give your words of life and encouragement? Please may I be right in the place where you can use even me. “
I want to live right, that God may use me, at anytime and anywhere. Being prepared is vital. Before going to an interview for a job, it is important to get ready by studying the job details. When you are asked questions you can give answers to show you have carefully thought about it.
At school (before Covid restrictions) we sometimes sang a song based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. It asks,
Would you walk by on the other side, when you see a loved one stray?
Would you walk by on the other side, or would you watch and pray?
Just take a moment to consider, do you know of a Christian who has walked along a very stony path and lost their way ?
A friend who lives some distance away had what seemed like a prolonged encounter with the wolf mentioned in our passage. This wolf is not a person but an influence which uses people to do its work. It will steal and destroy. My friend now struggles at many levels. Those who do not belong to the fold often only see part of the picture and blame the sheep for their responses to the situation. My friend was inevitably not blameless in this matter. Rarely any of us ever are.
God still loves them and always will.
I might ask; “Lord, do you want me to be the one to talk to them? What should I say? Please may I not say something wrong or unhelpful. When is the right time to pull alongside them and care for them?”
When the opportunity occurs, I must take it and not be afraid. The day will come when the one who is lost is found, Jesus will pick them up, place them over His shoulders and carry them home rejoicing.