Dear sisters and brothers!
Jesus the good Shepherd , this image triggers a feeling of protection and security, independent of being familiar with the Christian images. Jesus as a Shepherd who leads me, his sheep and protects me against hunger and thirst; who protects me from roaring lions and any kind of accident. For some the song brings particular poignancy. They have sung it at home with their parents when going to sleep. A former bishop of our church, Franz Schäfer told me this story from his youth, when he helped my Grandfather with Sunday school trips. Every evening everyone congregated in front of the house under the large lime tree and sang this song. To remind everyone that Jesus is the good Shepherd was a good way of preventing homesickness. They felt safe and protected despite their parents being far away.
Jesus as good Shepherd , this image is in tradition with images from the old testament. A prominent position is Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” God himself is the loyal Shepherd . He cares for every human, for food, protection. The soothing words of this Psalm guide many through hard times. But the image is not only for individuals. There is also a political dimension. The prophet Ezechiel tells the leaders of Israel: If they are not able to lead, God himself will. He will look after his flock and find lost sheep.
Jesus as good Shepherd expresses, that humans have the need to be cared for. This is good. Humans need time to rest and lean back, and allow others to care for them. But as Jesus is not the only good shepherd and we don’t always want to be cared for. A good example of this is small children. They are determined to crawl as soon as possible then they try to stand on their own feet and take their lives into their own hands to grow up.
Jesus as good Shepherd: This image can show our weaknesses regarding our desire to be taken care of. If we consider Jesus as good Shepherd, we can see all our childish cravings we still carry as adults.
He carries us in his arms when we are weak, as previously our father did. But someone who is always carried does not train his muscles and will not learn to walk. The food and water of the shepherd represents the mother. But someone who always relies on others never learns to find food and water for himself.
I want to place another image next to the one of Jesus as good Shepherd. This is Jesus as lamb of God. This is who John the Baptist introduces him. When he sees Jesus, he says: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This is an image of Jesus dying for us. This is the opposite of the imposing Shepherd. The lamb is a weak sacrifical animal. It can’t protect itself. It has no horns of sharp teeth. Jesus is not only the Shepherd, but also the lamb. As lamb of God he took away the sin of the world und brought us salvation.
In this way Jesus, the lamb, is even more a Shepherd by giving his life for his flock. And this way we return to the text of the Sermon. There we distinguish between a true shepherd and a paid farmhand looking after the sheep of his boss. When a wolf comes, such a farmhand will run away. The good shepherd will give his life for the sheep. When the shepherd gets the lambs and protects them so that the sheep is free of worries. Then the sheep are free to help alongside the big shepherd.
What does that mean when sheep help alongside? We are invited to take responsibility, responsibility for our own life, our beliefs, care of others, responsibility for this world. At the same time we are invited to separate between our personal worries and the worries for the good shepherd. Only if we remember that we are cared for and keep that in mind, we have all the strength to help others.
A Christian church we have the opportunity to practice this inside the church. We can practice caring. We can experience support for each other, not only in every day life but also in faith. We can find others who have been in similar situations who can understand us. Or we help another sheep of the flock with a question we had ourselves for a long time to find an answer. A church is not only for practice, it is also a space of discovery of talent and ability. New things can be tried and practiced. You can change, and there are other who are happy for you to take these new steps.
Considering those possibilities, we should consider three things Jesus mentions in his sermon of the good shepherd.
Firstly: Jesus and the shepherd, we are only helpers. Jesus as lamb of God care for our salvation. It is not our task to do this again. Considering all the possibilities of taking responsibility, the salvation for us and others is cared for. This should help us so that care for others does not end up in paternalism and that everyone remains free to take their own path.
Secondly: The good shepherd know himself and know us. He know me inside out and he is there for me always. I can let him look inside me, what troubles me. He does not judge me but accepts me how I am. Jesus gives me the freedom to change to a be a new/different person. He does not define a role for me. He does not squeeze me into a box. This is always the danger, that despite the freedom in the church, that we fix ourselves to roles and patterns of behaviour. We are always in danger to stick to the old and block the new. This helps us to understand that Jesus knows us better than any other human and knows of our hidden potentials.
Thirdly: The good shepherd has more sheep also from other stables. The shepherd is not only the shepherd of the flock I am in, there are other flocks and sheep outside. He is looking for the lost sheep. But as before, we do not have the responsibility for salvation. This is the job of the good shepherd and he know ways which are unknown to us. We can let him know the troubles of those lost sheep if we have reached the limit of our own strength.
Jesus a good shepherd and Jesus as lamb of God. Both images are deep rooted in biblical tradition. Even as no one of us is keeping animals any more, we can still feel how soothing and challenging these images are. Jesus as good shepherd shows us how God cares for us and our fellow human beings. Jesus as the lamb can make us see God’s conviction for us humans all the way to death. We are invited as helpers to care for each other and challenged at the same time to leave the responsibility for salvation for us and others with the good shepherd. As he knows what is best.