I was reading John 10 over the weekend and started thinking about the phrase – I am the good shepherd. When I read that phrase in the past I always thought Jesus was saying He was good and He was the shepherd and that makes complete sense. Jesus is good, He is perfect to be precise and He is our shepherd; He watches over, cares for, leads, guides us. But this time, as I read I saw the two words together. Jesus was saying He is the shepherd and He is good at being that shepherd.
He was saying that nobody shepherds better than He does and there’s no way He could be a better shepherd than He is already. He doesn’t need to practice to become perfect, He’s not going to make a mistake and lose a couple of sheep to carelessness. Maybe you all already got that but it came like a splash of fresh water to me, it opened my eyes and made me think.
The majority of people reading this, including me have no real idea about shepherds beyond what we might have read or seen on film or TV, I love Babe but it doesn’t really educate me about the reality of herding sheep. The people Jesus was talking to knew about it. The sight of shepherds and flocks of sheep would have been a daily sight. They probably had a shepherd in their immediate family or at least in the neighbourhood. They would identify with the job, understanding how dangerous it could be – we don’t really know about lions and wolves either… They’d get what Jesus was talking about in a way we can’t unless we stop and think.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep in His care.
The closest example is the armed forces who defend a country or the police who protect us from criminal activity. But these people aren’t personal. A shepherd knew his sheep intimately, he would know which ones liked to wander off and lead the others, he’d know which ones would linger munching grass whilst the others followed after him. He’d know the one most likely to get caught in thorns or go exploring in the crags and get stuck. He’d know the weakest one that got tired fastest and would need to be carried. He’d know the stubborn one, the lazy one, the curious one.
No shepherd ever in existence knew or has known his flock as well as Jesus knows us. He is the good shepherd:
- No-one could shepherd us better than He does
- He could not shepherd us better than He does already.
Those aren’t the same thing. The first says I can’t look around and find a better way, a better person to care for me. The second says He doesn’t need to practice, He’s not going to improve with time. This is as good as it gets so why am I struggling?
I wonder which sheep I am. I wonder how long before I stop getting waylaid and follow right at His heels to those green pastures and quiet waters, through the valley attentive to rod and staff. I’d like to hope it would be soon but I have that picture of Jesus with the lamb over His shoulders and thank Him He is patient.