Be The Shepherd

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

February 4, 2018


 John 10:11-16 (NRSV)


11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 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. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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.



“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.”


This phrase from our text is loaded for those listening to Jesus.  Especially for his Hebrew audience. First, he describes himself as a “good shepherd” -- sometimes it is even translated “great” - but here it is good.  


“Good” like the word used to describe God’s creative work in the creation poem in Genesis - “God saw all that he made and it was good.”


And then he calls himself a shepherd -- interesting that he didn’t call himself a king or a ruler or a rabbi or high priest, not a business man, not even a typical “blue collar”  worker of his day, but rather the bottom of the barrel,  a stinky, useless, ignored shepherd.  This was the lowest of the low in Jesus’ day. You may be unaware of the fact that shepherds weren’t even allowed to worship in the synogogue or temple, nor were they were  allowed to participate in society.  Very similar to the more modern banning of African Americans, women, the LGBTQ and even immmigrants in churches and society.


It is even worse than we are imagining - Shepherds were ritually defiled. If you read the book of Leviticus carefully, it is clear that there were a multitude of things people living under the Law had to do to please the Lord in Jesus’ day. Among those were prohibitions against making contact with feces or dead things - something that any shepherd dealt with on a daily basis.  Thus they were never clean - or maybe I should say clean enough. The society of this day was fanatical about cleanliness, thus shepherds had to stand aside. They were never clean; it was impossible. They were constantly walking about in excrement and touching dead things, and both activities left them in a state of ritual impurity.


Think about that not only did Jesus identify with shepherds - he called himself a “good shepherd” That would have been considered an oxymoron in his day and down right wrong.


It is kinda funny how we 2000 years later connect with this imagery.  Some of the most recognizable pieces of art in the Christian world are of Jesus the Great Shepherd. 


As well, the most popular psalm - actually one of the most popular texts from the entire bible - only out done by John 3:16 is Psalm 23, which begins... 


“The Lord is my shepherd.” 


It is one of the most used scriptures at funerals, at hospital and hospice bedsides, and in hundreds of pieces of music.


So, the Hebrew people had been hearing of their God identifying as a shepherd for quite some time. I am sure it was not as popular of a metaphor for them as we have made it in our day.  With our fluffy white sheep and our smiling Jesus walking in a lush meadow.  I am sure their image was quite different - maybe even difficult to relate with the God of the Universe. 


In the book “A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller, he relates to this difficulty. He says…


“Now the beautiful relationships given to us repeatedly in Scripture between God and man are those of a Father and his children and a shepherd to his sheep...These concepts were first conceived in the mind of God our Father. They were made possible and practical through the work of Christ. They are confirmed and made real in me through the agency of the gracious Holy Spirit. 


So when the simple -- though sublime -- statement is made by a man or woman that “The Lord is my Shepherd,” it immediately implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his Maker. 


It links a lump of common clay to divine destiny -- it means a mere mortal becomes the cherished object of divine diligence...To think that God in Christ is deeply concerned about me as a practical person immediately gives great purpose and enormous meaning to my short sojourn upon this planet.”


Folks, we must remember the Good Shepherd knows his sheep. 


The word know in Greek (ginosko) means - TO PRECEIVE, TO FEEL, TO UNDERSTAND, and TO BECOME KNOWN.  


So this means that God - the Good Shepherd- preceives, feels, understands, and knows you and me - and wants to become known in our lives and we in his. 


You and I are cherished by God - we are deeply known.  God knows us so intimately (the word known in the Jewish culture is a actually a sexual term) - sadly that doesn’t have the depth of meaning in our day and age due to our over sexualized media and world.


Let me give you a picture of the depth of what God is saying by reading a modern interpretation of Psalm 23 - from the book Psalms, NOW! (actually I am not sure how modern it is - I noticed in the front cover it was released the year I was born.).  The words speak of this intimate relationship between the Good Shepherd who truly knows his sheep.


The Lord is my constant companion.

There is no need that He cannot fulfill.

Whether His course for me points

          to the mountaintops of glorious ecstacy

or to the valley of human suffering,

He is by my side,

He is ever present with me.

He is close beside me.

          when I tread the dark streets of danger,

          and when I flirt with death itself,

          He will not leave me.

When the pain is severe,

          He is near to comfort.

When the burden heavy,

          He is there to lean upon.

When depression darkens my soul,

          He touches me with eternal joy.

When I feel empty and alone,

          He fills the aching vacuum with His power.

My security is in His promise

          to be near to me always,

          and in the knowledge

          that He will never let me go. 


Realizing this relationship with the God of the Universe can be overwhelming.  When we realize that God loves us this much (as our query from last week prompted us to consider) it may take us some time to fully grasp it.  That is why I believe God says in Psalms, “Be Still and Know that I am God.”


God knows you and me - I can understand that -- but for me to know God takes a lot more. 


Actually, it may not be possible until we actually step into the Good Shepherd’s shoes (or maybe I should say sandals).  Jesus actually shifts the metaphor after the resurrection with his conversation with Peter.  Her says…


Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”   [BE THE SHEPHERD]


He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”     [BE THE SHEPHERD]


Then he said it a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”


Peter was upset that he asked him for the third time, “Do you love me?”

So he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you. “ 


Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”  [BE THE SHEPHERD]



Wow!  This means you and I are both sheep and shepherds.  As Quakers we can understand this because we believe in the priesthood of all believers or that everyone is a minister. 


We are to imitate God in our daily life - and that means we must become shepherds -

●     Shepherds in our families [Feed my children]

●     Shepherds in our neighborhoods [Feed my neighbors]

●     Shepherds in our workplaces [Feed my workers]

●     Shepherds in our schools [Feed my students]

●     Shepherds in our government [Feed my citizens and immigrants]

●     Shepherds in our Scout Troops [Feed my scouts]

●     Shepherds in our Meeting [Feed ONE ANOTHER]




How are you being called to “Be the Shepherd” in your world this week?