26 April 2015

John 10:11-18

"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." (v. 12)

Psalm: Psalm 23


"I am the good shepherd," says Jesus in verse 11 - one of his most famous sayings. Those of us who have read this passage and Psalm 23 over and over again, instantly think of "still waters" and "green pastures", which are beautiful images, and it may be that your life is busy and stressful and you want to stay with the image of the God who "restores [your] soul" (Psalm 23:3). But for many of us these images have been used again and again and, for those who live in cities at least, may feel far removed from our everyday life.

What we do not always notice is that Jesus is describing a contrast with the "hired hand" who runs away, leaving the sheep to the tender mercy of the wolves, and in doing so is joining his voice to that of the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 34) who bitterly complained that the "shepherds of Israel" (Ezekiel 34:1) had fed themselves but had abandoned the sheep. In verse 4 Ezekiel accuses them, "You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them". Israel had been let down by the very people meant to care for the people. It is no coincidence that, immediately before this passage Jesus was in conflict with the Pharisees over a blind man (John 9) and immediately after the Jews are divided and there is an attempt to stone him (John 10:19-39). Jesus is addressing those who have been damaged by false shepherds.

And to people who have been used and abused by those supposed to care for them, Jesus promises a new kind of shepherd, who chooses freely to lay down his life and to take it up again.

To Ponder

  • What examples of false shepherds can you think of, and what damage have they done?
  • What difference (if any) does it make to hear this promise through the ears of someone damaged by false shepherds?
  • What are the marks of a true leader for you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.