Scripture for the week (“Good Shepherd” Sunday): Acts 4.5–12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3.16–24; John 10.11-18
At the beginning of the Camino de Santiago, we noticed that the sheep in the Pyrenees have bells around their neck – but not all of them. Supposedly, the ones with bells are the ones that the others follow, selected by the shepherds.
Jesus uses imagery of sheep and shepherds to describe his ministry, but where does that leave us, as sheep? If we are to become for others as Christ has become for us, it means that collectively (but certainly not individually) we must act as a shepherd in the world.
This imposes a serious responsibility on us: as stated in 1 John, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” Love of God and love of neighbour are inextricably intertwined.
Psalm 23 uses the imagery of the shepherd to describe God’s place in our lives; in Christ, that role is cemented into human terms, a shepherd who really is willing to lay down his life for the flock. And the flock is broadly defined, not narrowly bounded: Jesus acknowledges “other sheep.”
This self-sacrificial leadership shows God’s love refracted through humanity, and it is something that the early church understood and tried to embrace in its life. The Roman world was surprised – even shocked – by the willingness of Christians to take care of the needy.
This mantle falls on us – often uncomfortably – to live and work together as collective custodians of what God has given us to nurture. And we have to try to like one another – not always easy for human beings in community! It is difficult to be an effective shepherd to a flock that we do not really like. The words of Carol King, from Tapestry, capture it well: “I wept to see him suffer, though I did not know him well.”
Our challenge, in the flock of Christ’s sheep, is to make ourselves worthy of wearing the bells, to be with the flock and to care for it, remembering who our shepherd is, what he did, and how he did it.