Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Good Shepherd

I was visiting an old Catholic church in Olinda, Brazil with a Brazillian pastor friend of mine. On the roof of one of the rooms was a painting of a bloke with a beard (presumably meant to be Jesus) and the words "EGO SUM PASTOR BONUS". My initial reaction was surprise that I could understand it so easily, before realising that was because it was Latin, not Portuguese. I was then slightly surprised at how similar it is to the Portuguese "Eu sou o bom pastor", whereas it translates into English as "I am the good shepherd", from John 10:11 (and 10:14). And yes, I know, Latin-derived languages and all.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10:11, TNIV

And that got me thinking. We're so familiar with those words and the ideas behind them we think "yeah, yeah". Bad shepherds - run away when wolves come or whatever (as in v12-13). Only in it for themselves (as in v13 and v8). Jesus isn't like the bad shepherds in Ezekiel 34 or whatever, because they didn't look after the flock, but Jesus will. But we miss the huge force of what Jesus is saying.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
No he doesn't. Sure, a good shepherd will try to protect the flock from wolves or whatever, and he will care about the sheep rather than just his wage packet, but a good shepherd wouldn't seriously endanger his own life for a bunch of stupid wooly grass-eating dimwit quasi-suicidal animals. That would be utterly stupid. The shepherd should know that at the end of the day, he is still far more important than his stupid sheep. Yes, a good shepherd cares for his sheep but what sort of shepherd lays down his life for the sheep? A crazy one. One who has his sense of value all mixed up. What would the funeral be like? "What a great guy, he died so these sheep we're going to eat for lunch could last another couple of days." Mad.

But I think that's closer to the point. The point isn't so much that Jesus is being a good shepherd and looking after his flock well in comparison to the other shepherds, who didn't look after the sheep and were in it for themselves, though that of course is in there. But Jesus is going crazily overboard in the other direction - he is the shepherd who of course is worth far far more than the sheep (us) but who loves us so much he dies for us anyway.

Jesus is such a good shepherd that he goes beyond our notion of what good means into what seems to us to be totally crazy love for us. That is how much he cares for us, that shows us how he leads us. What a contrast to the way even the world's idea of what a good leader is and does!

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