“Forget all those paintings you’ve seen where a tall, blond, Jesus carries a fluffy white lamb in his arms. John 10:11–18 is all about business. A flock of sheep without a shepherd will soon be gone – stolen, butchered, or taken by wild animals. And with the flock gone, the families who must depend upon it will soon be gone. And if the families go, society falls apart. Everything is at stake in this reading.” – Seasons of the Spirit
This is a passage about commitment – intense, engaged, full on, not giving up early commitment. The author of this passage is also using this metaphor to speak to the early church about leadership. When we talk about Christian leadership, what do we really mean? For that matter, when we talk about Christian _______ fill in the blank – what do we mean? To obtain the adjective “Christian” does something simply have to be Christlike? “Christian music”, “Christian Books”, or “Christian movies” – let alone “Christian values” are no where near as simple or clear as any of them sound.
Christian leadership is a complex topic – but this passage makes one thing very clear – it is about a total commitment to the sheep (people) not about right teaching, right doctrine, right practices – it’s about the sheep.
Paired with the other readings for the day (Acts 4:5–12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16–24) the reader can see the tension in trying to find the “right teachings” in the struggle of Acts 4. The letter of 1 John reminds believers that as they face these struggles – that it is really in our actions that we truly care for one another -“3:18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” The 23 Psalm, a favorite of so many faithful people of God over centuries – paints the beautiful picture of the world that God wants for us.
As we come away from Earth Day and a week of looking deeper at the realities of our planet – this image of being led in a pasture can seem all too unreal. God wants the best for each of us – yet the diversity of gifts and talents show us clearly the best for each of us isn’t the same. Yet God wants to provide for our needs, water, food, shelter. Without these basic needs met, one cannot move on to other concerns of life. The Shepherd provides these for their sheep – not every sheep everywhere, but for their sheep – even when it’s hard.
Do we as leaders allow our needs to be met by God? Or are we too busy presuming that we must be the shepherd for others in our lives? Christian leadership is first and foremost about being a follower of the good Shepherd. Taking the time out of our busy lives to listen for their voice, to follow their guidance, and to allow ourself to be taken care of. It is out of our healthy selves that we can be ministers to others and fulfill our callings – not out of our callings we will be fulfilled.
We each understand the sacrifice on the cross and atonement through our own lens of experience. Jesus speaks of many things in this passage – I encourage you to read it over 2 or 3 times – and consider first what you do in your life to allow yourself to be led by the Shepherd.