2 August 2017

John 10:11-21

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 80


'Shepherd' is a term familiar to readers of the Bible. It is used widely, including in relation to significant characters (David, for example), but in the Old Testament there are many examples of bad shepherds too. In this passage Jesus declares himself to be the "good shepherd" but, although he does not flee at the first sign of danger, he does not say that he will fight off those who wish to harm the sheep either, so understandings of what makes for a proficient shepherd begin to fall apart.

Jesus gives a different kind of content to his claim to be a 'good' shepherd. He says that he knows his sheep and they know him (verse 14). They belong to him and he claims to know them as the Son knows the Father (verse 15), indicating an intimacy and profound depth of relationship, insight and understanding. In return, the sheep know the shepherd. They do not just know about him, but know him through personal experience and relationship. The idea of a deep, instinctive knowing backed up by experience continues from yesterday's passage (link). Jesus is the shepherd who shows love and concern for those under his care. The focus of his energy is directed towards the well-being of the flock. Unlike the thieves or bandits or hired hands whose motivations for leading the sheep may be more suspect, Jesus seeks their well-being and leads them to fullness of life. Indeed, Jesus is willing to lay down his life for them.

This laying down of life is more than an allusion to physical death. Jesus gives his whole self to and for his people. He is willing to put his life on the line for them. Just as the Father holds nothing back from the Son, so Jesus knows who the people are and what they can be, and he gives himself for them.

There is more: Jesus does not just lay down his life, but has the power to take it up again. The laying down and taking up of life enables this mediation and outpouring of self-giving love. It is from Jesus' life laid down that eternal life arises.

To Ponder

  • 'Shepherd' is an image that is often used for when exploring ideas of leadership. What might this passage contribute to your understanding of leadership?
  • Which leader might you follow, and whose leadership might you reject, if the criteria for judging their suitability was whether all they do is for the well-being of those for whom they are responsible?

Bible notes author

The Revd Nicola Price-Tebbutt

Nicola Price-Tebbutt is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has previously served in circuit in Sheffield and as a tutor at Hartley Victoria College in Manchester.