OK. So, I’m going to go out on a limb, here and suggest something that many might think is heretical. Jesus didn’t know a whole lot about shepherding. Granted, he probably knew a little bit more about it than I do. And he WAS God, after all, but based simply on his rather flagrant touting of suspicious shepherding practice (e.g. leaving the 99 to fend for themselves while searching for the 1), I have my doubts as to his bona fides as a “good shepherd”.
That is, until you put his words into the context of a much longer history of figurative shepherds and metaphorical shepherding in Israel. For generations, it turns out, the kings and leaders of Israel claimed the title of “shepherd(s) of the people,” following the model of King David, the great and greatest shepherd-king of all time. Writing in the wake of the Babylonian Exile, the prophet Ezekiel lays the metaphor bare when he speaks of God’s having a complaint with “the shepherds,” and clearly not meaning the local experts in animal husbandry.
Thus, it seems to me that when Jesus claims to describe a superior model of shepherding the people, he is not doping so in a way that would seek to apply livestock management techniques to social situations. Actually, what he seems to have in mind is something more like a simple reversal of the status-quo. The leaders of the day, the “bad shepherds” are selfish, self-serving and greedy. Jesus is compassionate, self-giving and other-focused. He lays down his life for the sheep, perhaps even in a way that a “real” shepherd would not. But that’s OK, he’s not really talking about sheep after all, is he?
And so we, also, kind find a place in all of this, too. No real sheep ever actually aspires to grow-up to be more like the shepherd. Frankly, I’ve spent just about enough time with sheep to believe that they don’t really aspire to much at all. But you and I can look to Jesus with the eyes not only of a sheep but as want-to-be shepherds, too. We can learn from him how best to care for those entrusted to us.
See? That’s not so baaaaaaad, is it?
Cover Image by 12019 on pixabay