Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Ephesians: 2: 13-18
Mark 6: 30-34
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
How many of you, when you were young and couldn’t sleep were told by your parents to count sheep? My grandmother used the image of a shepherd stood by a gateway that separates two fields; the sheep were going from one field to the other and in my imagination I was told to count the sheep as they passed through the narrow gateway. Some times it worked sometimes it didn’t. But have you ever seen sheep when they panic? Try counting them then! If they are in a field it is bad enough, they scatter in all directions until the shepherd comes to restore order. But for sheep that are on the hill or mountainside in open country, with no walls to restrain them the result can be catastrophic because they can scatter far and wide and inevitably some are lost forever.
The Bible is full of references to shepherds and their flocks. Jeremiah calls the national leaders ‘bad shepherds’, because they neglect their people’s needs; and God himself promises that He will be a shepherd to the nation. In Psalm 23, my favourite Psalm, David the shepherd king sings of the Lord as his shepherd: The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want; He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. Isaiah says the Lord God will feed His flock like a shepherd, and in St John’s Gospel Jesus says that He is the Good shepherd. At Jesus’ birth the shepherds were given the great honour of being the first to visit and pay homage to our new born incarnate Lord.
Calling God a shepherd though is a striking metaphor. Shepherds were not held in high regard in contemporary Jewish society, they were bye and large the dregs of society. Often if a wolf or lion appeared the bad shepherd would be the first to leave the scene, leaving his flock to be scattered far and wide, the good shepherd on the other hand would lay down his life to protect his flock and Jesus intentionally refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd and what good news that is for you and me! Showing how He cares for those He loves, meeting their deepest needs and ultimately laying down His life to save us. But also what great news it is for you and I that Jesus is willing to be associated with less than perfect people such as shepherds. That must surely give us hope!
Even the great shepherd king David was far from perfect but he found favour in Gods eyes. King David was a mixture of good and bad, like all of us. David was the son of Jesse, born in Bethlehem. He was away from home when the prophet Samuel came to anoint the next king – David was in the hills tending his sheep. When he was called to attend on King Saul, he used the skills he had learned in the hills, not only his skill as a poet and a harpist, but also as a warrior, fighting the Philistines, confident that God, who had defended him against lions and bears when he was a shepherd, would defend him even against Goliath. But he was not perfect. He had Uriah the Hittite murdered so that he could marry his widow Bath-Sheba. He had many other people killed, and had sons by many different wives. Yet he united the warring tribes of the Israelites, and he bought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, set it up in a tabernacle or tent, and appointed the descendants of Aaron to be the priests of the people. Despite his lowly start in life as a common shepherd David is widely recognised as the greatest of all Israel’s kings.
So when Jesus came ashore from the boat and saw the leaderless people, he felt sorry for them. They are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’, He said. He took pity on them and He took control, and gave them direction and unity. In this way he showed Himself to be the ‘Son of David’, the ideal leader who would shepherd Israel in the pattern of God the good shepherd. So how do we Christians rate as God’s sheep, then, would you say? Pretty abysmally in all probability is the honest answer. All of us, like sheep have gone astray, some of us have turned our back deliberately on our shepherd, we have ignored His calls to us and have tried to find our own more comfortable path; some of us have panicked when the ‘wolf’ has come among the flock and we have found ourselves scattered, isolated and all alone in open country. We can become undisciplined, and disobey the instructions that our good shepherd is giving us. We become a divided flock and separate into flocklets and factions, easy prey to the predators that circle us in the darkness.
Dear Jesus, Son of David, show us how useless we are to you while we remain disobedient and disunited, bring us together again, united in one flock, so that you can lead us into the green pastures, by the still waters and into eternity where surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.