Tag Archives: good shepherd

S2856293801_b4fd8f405chepherds and Sheep

Our texts today refer to the relationship of sheep and their shepherds.  In Psalm 23 we read perhaps the ultimate statement of individual intimacy with God and the comfort and protection offered by the divine shepherd.  While it refers to troubles and the valley of death, it is more about God-centered living than about death. And in Mark, as in Matthew and Luke, we see God the Son as the compassionate shepherd who, even though he had been trying to avoid the crowds, could not turn his back on the people but taught them and healed them.

Let’s look at this image from both sides.  There are sheep…and there are shepherds.

Sheep are simple animals who spend their days grazing on grass and growing long coats of hair which are later sheared off.  Used for their wool, their milk, their hide, and their meat; they are of great value to their owners.  Sheep have a strong flocking instinct finding the greatest safety in the center of the flock.  Having no means of defence other than running away, sheep are easily startled, and when frightened don’t really pay attention to where they are going,  getting easily caught in brambles or finding themselves separated from the group. Lost sheep have a much lower chance of survival and need to be returned to the herd quickly.

Are we like sheep?  In our readings today the sheep in the texts were metaphors for the people of God.  In Psalm 23 we are grateful sheep, given rest and comfort and assured of the continued presence and guidance of the greatest shepherd.  In Mark we are the crowd, or the flock, seeking Jesus and his presence, teaching and healing.

Shepherds make their living by tending to the sheep.  They are responsible for making sure that the sheep are well fed, kept safe from predators, that ewes give birth safely, and making sure that none of the sheep get lost or stolen.  Shepherds live with the stock, they do not just put them in pens and go into nice cozy houses for the nights.  It is lonely work with no vacation days and certainly no storm days.  For these people, the sheep come first, they are their primary concern.  Think about the human shepherds in the Bible.  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and King David all worked as shepherds of real sheep.  They also all made great contributions to the advancement and well-being of the Israelites.

Why skip over the stories of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water?  These are both great examples of shepherding. Jesus provided good grazing, if you will, for the people who had gathered around him and he walked out onto the water when he saw that his disciples were straining at the oars on their boat.  These are big front-page stories and risk taking the focus off of Jesus’ compassion.  We are not just an employer’s sheep here; we are his own sheep whom he loves.

Being of the television generation, several mental pictures immediately spring up when discussing sheep and shepherds.  First is the series of cartoons with the wolf and the big sheepdog checking in on their time clocks and heading out to work, the wolf to try to catch and kill the sheep, and the dog to protect them.  The second is of Babe the pig herding the sheep in the sheepdog competition into separate pens by communicating with them in their own terms.  He knew the magic words…”Baa-ram-ewe”

What dangers do we need our shepherd to protect us from?  We could list hundreds of temptations, and dangers such as muggings etc here, but the only real danger is that we become separated from God.  Sin separates us from God and so we need the shepherd to steer us away from sinful things…to keep us on the straight path.

God sent Jesus to live among us as one of us just as the sheepdogs and Babe did.  Jesus knew our own language.  He knew what we were going through because he lived it.  People could feel this, perhaps the reason he drew such large crowds of people wherever he went.  He knew the magic words.  He was one of us, not trying to make himself much more than us.

A shepherd is a guide.  If you have travelled to new places at all you will realize how much easier it is to get around, how much more comfortable you feel, with a guide who knows the area.  Whether this be a jungle safari or a trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival, it is easier to take in the event when someone else is taking charge of keeping you from straying off.  Someone who has been there before.

God knew this and planned to give us just this sort of guide.  Jesus is such a good shepherd because he also has been a sheep.  While Jeremiah foretells the shepherd, John 1:36 refers to Jesus as, “God’s Passover Lamb” and Acts 8:32, “As a sheep led to slaughter, and quiet as a lamb being sheared,”  Lambs are used to symbolize innocence and only perfect lambs were acceptable for sacrifice to God in the Old Testament.  He has been here before and He knows the way.  It is for us to put our faith in Him and follow in his ways.


Psalm 23  The Gospel- Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Choose Now Part 2

Think about the images of Jesus that we in Canada have seen most.  Jesus holding a lamb, Jesus welcoming the little children, Jesus the kind, the gentle, the welcoming.  Did you know that this is not how Jesus is pictured elsewhere in the world?  Images of suffering, of pain, these are the images of Jesus most common in Central and South America and other cultures which have had to deal with great suffering.  The gentle, mild Jesus is easy to follow.  But the bloody Jesus, the suffering Jesus, the abuse and ridicule and physical pain Jesus went through, this is not so easy for us.  Jesus tells the disciples that to choose Him is to choose this  far more difficult road. The road to the cross.


I have never imagined disciples leaving Jesus.  In my mind they followed and they all stayed with him until the end.  I don’t know why I didn’t recognize the all too human tendency to lose interest, to quit when things get tough.  Still, with Jesus’ real, human and immediate presence, how could you walk away and go back to your old life?  Well, that is exactly what many people did in this story.  The disciples said that what he was presenting to them was too difficult and many left him at that time.  After being part of such a radical, exciting and successful ministry, being busy every moment of the day and never really knowing where you were headed next or what the next miracle you witness might be, imagine returning to your work-a-day life.  As they walked away they must have felt a great let-down, and yet they knew that they were not ready for what Jesus required of them.   How sad!


Jesus challenged those who stayed with him, wanting to be sure that they really understood what they were getting into. “Do you also want to go away?”  How discouraging it must have been for him to see so few remain faithful.  Even though he knew that not all would believe and that one would even betray him. These people had been following him, listening and learning, how could they fail to understand?


As I said earlier, it is very hard for me to imagine walking out on Jesus.  Simon Peter wraps it all up for us I believe, when he says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  There is no better place to be, no better one to follow, than God in Jesus Christ.  So we have chosen.  We choose the one true God!


The Ephesians reading addresses the nitty-gritty of the question.  I would paraphrase this one as, if you choose God then you need to be prepared to stand firm.  God provides us with all we need to stand firm in the “armor of God”.  What is our armor to be? “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.   As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith…Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (14-17)  In Canada these days I believe talking in terms of putting on armour for the fight is a bit of a touchy subject.  As citizens we see our troops deployed in far off lands, in harm’s way.  Many questions arise which challenge the faithful.  Is this a “just war”?  What justification can there be for war when Jesus taught peace and turning the other cheek?  This is not an easy area and not really the point of our readings today, however it needs to be noted that the question of fidelity to either God or worldly rulers is not clear-cut.  We are indeed subjects of human government.  It is in questions like this that we most need our armor.  The truth that Jesus was God, doing our best to do what is right, reliance on the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation, believing when it is not easy, and allowing the spirit of God to open His holy word to us in our time are the tools that we need to make our way through this tricky world.


I would like to close with a simple song that we taught the children at our Vacation Bible School at St. James.


I will follow Jesus Christ

I will serve Him with my life

I have courage I have strength

I will choose Him every day


I am ready for the call of Jesus, ready for the call

Ready for the call of Jesus Christ

I am ready for the call of Jesus, ready for the call

Ready for the call of Jesus Christ!


Are we ready for the call?  Do we have the courage and the strength?  At the beginning of  every new day, whom will you choose?

Aug 27, 2006 Stanley



Old Testament-   Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Responsive Reading-   Psalm 84


New Testament-  Ephesians 6:10-20

Gospel Mark – John 6:56-69