Captain Graham Bibby writes:
Although many people have tried to find modern equivalents to the shepherd imagery of the Bible for pastoral care today, few of them carry the same wealth of meaning. Jesus’ words in John 10 would have found many echoes with his hearers. In the Old Testament, the shepherd image was particularly related to David and the promise of the Messiah. David also appreciated the ways in which God himself acted as a shepherd for the people of Israel (Psalm 23). When Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd he is presenting himself as the Messiah, the true King, the faithful leader and guide – the Son of God. In contrast to those who came before – the religious leaders – Jesus is genuinely concerned about the flock and knows them intimately. This is a shepherd who will not rest until all who belong to him have been restored to the safety of the fold. Indeed, his commitment to their welfare extends to giving up his own life willingly. In his presence there is nourishment, strength and refreshment.
At times in the history of the Church, the ‘shepherding’ role of leaders has been exercised in rather heavy-handed ways, and the ‘flock’ has been treated like ignorant sheep! Such approaches fail to help Christians grow and mature in their faith. Furthermore, although particular individuals in the Church are called to exercise a ‘pastoral’ role, we are all called to share in the ministry of Jesus in caring for others. This involves modelling our lives on the good shepherd. We are all called to create the right atmosphere in which those in our care can thrive. Jesus demonstrated in a practical way that his disciples were to serve one another and prove their discipleship by the love they showed for one another.
The New Testament word we usually translate as ‘fellowship’ (koinonia), means a sharing of life. This is a costly business, but being a Christian is not a private affair! In Jesus’ parable, the lost sheep is brought back to the flock, to the life of the community.
The shepherd’s courage is based on trust in God and is seen in the self-giving love of Jesus. It is a courage which doesn’t shy away from getting involved and is prepared to walk with others, even when the going gets tough, even during the crisis of a pandemic! Jesus himself walked where we walk and he walks with us still. He is our eternal companion, an ever-present friend with the ability to give sustenance. Are our churches enabling people to be companions, sharing lives and offering support? I believe they are as I read and hear the accounts of care and support that’s going on during this time of isolation. Keep up the good work, everyone!