4/29/18 – Good Shepherding & Bad Shepherding

Posted on : Apr 26th, 2018 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

I have a confession to make:  I have no experience with sheep or shepherds.  I do however know a lot about people.

The teachings of Jesus are loaded with stories about sheep and shepherds.  At the time of his birth we are told, “There were shepherds abiding in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.  And suddenly…!”

Jesus was fond of Shepherd imagery as well.  Most churches (including ours!) have at least one picture or stained-glass window of Jesus walking with a lamb wrapped around his neck as he brings it back to the flock, portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

The little that I know about sheep and shepherds tells me none of this pastoral imaging we use about sheep or shepherds is correct.   In fact, it’s mostly wrong.  According to what I’ve read and one first-hand account from a contemporary shepherd, sheep are not the cute, cuddly perfectly coiffed animals as pictured in our churches.  They are dirty, filthy, gnarly animals.  And they stink – they smell very bad.  They are also none too bright.  They wander all over and could care less what danger befalls them.  If one falls off a cliff, the whole herd will follow, unless they get distracted by something more interesting – or just wander off for the heck of it.

Likewise, shepherds in the time of Jesus were not the warm fuzzy dudes that we portray them to be.  They smelled as bad, or even worse, than the sheep.  Shepherds were viewed as the equivalent of today’s gangbangers.  Most of them took the job because it was the only job they could get.  The commitment to the wellbeing of the rowdy, independent-minded sheep was only as strong as the day’s pay.  They also were treated like many of today’s undocumented migrant field workers.  They worked long hours, the pay was hardly enough to survive on, and they were exploited for everything the sheep owners could get out of them.

As we read in this Sunday’s scripture, it is no surprise that these shepherds would leave the flock or not go looking for the sheep that had gone astray.  Why risk their life for an oppressive owner’s sheep?  They didn’t care that much about the sheep.  However, the owners did.  The sheep were very valuable to them.  But the shepherds shared in none of the benefits of ownership, so they didn’t care.

So, why does Jesus use this less-than-flattering image, referring to us and him as sheep and shepherd?  Like I said, I have no first-hand knowledge of sheep or shepherds.  But I do know people.  I know some people are really good shepherds and some are really bad shepherds.  Some people care about others.  Others don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.  Some people exploit others for their own economic gain.  Others work hard to ensure that everyone gets at least a living wage.

This Sunday we’re going to focus on good shepherding and bad shepherding.  All of us have met Christians who are good shepherds, maybe even great shepherds.   And all of us have met Christians who are bad shepherds, maybe even atrocious shepherds.  What difference does it make whether we care for the wellbeing of others?  What difference does it make whether we exploit others, especially the weak and most vulnerable among us?  What difference does it make if we love others or treat them like dirt?  According to Jesus, it makes a huge difference. Jesus lays the responsibility upon us to know the difference between good shepherding and bad shepherding, and to counter bad shepherding with good.

Blessings to you as we are raised into the fullness of life and truth, with Christ, in this Season of Easter!


John 10: 11-18

Jesus tells the parable of the good shepherd.

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

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as God knows me and I know God. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason God loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my God.”

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