I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10: 11

Jesus’ words here seem obvious. He will do this exact thing, and although the actions that He is describing might have been mysterious to the audience on that day when He was saying this, we all know about the events that the Lord is referencing. But I wonder if that is all that there is to this? Jesus was often a little devious in what He said. He wanted the people who were hearing Him to consider and to ponder His words so that they might discover deeper meanings and broader applications within their lives for them. People in that region in those days were very aware of the role of shepherds in their society. Sheep were important for their many uses, and their need for care and guidance was also understood by all. Yet, the job of caring for sheep was not glamourous or even well thought of in society. Tending sheep required for a person to dedicate their life to that often risky endeavor and to do so in relative isolation while working for many months of the year without break or respite.

Yes, Jesus would give up His life in order to bring salvation to those that He loved, which means that He did so for the sake of all of humanity, but He also did far more than that for us. Jesus demonstrated what it means to care about others in ways that crossed over the lines that people tend to draw between the secular and the sacred. He engaged with people in the places where they were living out the routines of their lives, and He went into places that the religious of His day had deemed to be unholy and unacceptable for anyone who followed God to set foot. Yet, Jesus knew that the entirety of creation belonged to God; so, there was literally no place on this earth where He should not go. There were also no people who were not worthy of His attention, love, and care. Christ brought healing to the physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick people of His day, and He set out the model for us to do the same for those people in the world during our days. Jesus went out into the world, and He sought out the lost, the wandering, and the needy among the multitudes in His world, and He sends His followers out to do the same in ours.

So, when Jesus gave Himself up to be tortured and executed on the cross, that was really a culminating moment to a life that had already been surrendered to following the Father’s will in every aspect of what He thought and did. Jesus lived out God’s redemptive desire as He entered into the harsh realities of people’s lives, and He engaged in this with utter disregard for what others might think, how they would treat Him as a result of what He said and did, or the impact upon His social and societal standing. Jesus was the shepherd that genuinely loved sheep. So, He calls upon all of us that claim to follow Him to do the same. We are to set aside our cares and concerns about involvement with people that our world has designated as unworthy or as lacking in value. We are to take the risk of entering into the lives of those that are foreign to us or who might seem to be dangerous in order to know them and so that they might see and get to know Christ through us. When we are reluctant to enter into caring for the many needy people in our world and as we are weary and desiring a break from the task of shepherding these sheep, Jesus asks the hard questions, “Whose life is it that you are protecting?” and “Which of these sheep is the one that I would not be willing to lay down my life to save?”    

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