THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
This week it would be hard to miss the metaphor of the Good Shepherd. But it’s easy to miss the story in which Jesus makes the claim to be the Good Shepherd and if we do that we miss the power of the metaphor. To get the idea, we really need to go all the way back to the beginning of John 9. Jesus and his disciples pass a blind man, and the disciples ask whether he is blind because of his own sin or that of his parents. Jesus replies that God’s glory will be shown through him, and then heals the man. The result is a rather comical unfolding of events as the religious leaders, who are upset because the healing happened on the Sabbath, investigate this miracle. What becomes clear is that, in their quest to be “holy” and “pure” the religious leaders have lost their compassion. Obeying the law to do no work on the Sabbath is more important than showing compassion to a blind man. In the words of the Old Testament prophets, they have ceased to be faithful shepherds.
Jesus, on the other hand, is willing to “bend the rules” and do the work of healing even though it’s Sabbath, because the law of love demands it. He trusts that God’s glory shines through this act of compassion. Then, in response to the increasingly harsh treatment that the religious leaders meet out to this man, he speaks about himself as the Good Shepherd who willingly lays down his life for the sheep. He also mentions “other sheep” that are not of “this fold” (probably a reference to the Gentiles) that he must bring in order to have one flock with one caring, sacrificial Shepherd. What is so strange here is the radical inclusivity of Jesus, and the upside-down way he uses the metaphor. Usually, in the sacrificial system, it is the sheep that gives its life as a sacrifice in order to “save” the worshipper. But here Jesus claims to be the Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep! It’s a divine absurdity – and it is the focus of this week’s meditations.
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