From the Manse

The Good Shepherd

If, like me, your upbringing was in an urban setting then the image of a shepherd is not likely to have been a familiar one. Indeed, I cannot recall ever encountering a 'scouse' shepherd -they simply did not loom large in my experience!

Such was not the case were Jesus was concerned, for the image of a shepherd was very much part of his heritage and culture. We remember that Abraham, the 'father' of the nation, was the keeper of great flocks, Moses tended the flocks of his father-in-law and David was a shepherd boy called in from the fields to be the King of Israel. When the prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming of the Messiah he worded it by saying: "He will feed his flock like a shepherd! He will gather his lambs into his arms." Then there is, of course, the truly wonderful 23rd Psalm, which is frequently referred to as the shepherd psalm. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul." The tradition of the shepherd was then very much a part of the culture and heritage of Jesus.

The image of a shepherd, we Christians know, is also very much part of the culture and heritage of the New Testament. Jesus once told a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep but one of them went astray, so the shepherd left the 99 to go in search of that one lost sheep. Later, when Jesus was speaking to a great throng of people, Mark tells us that he had compassion upon them because they were "as sheep without a shepherd" (Mark 6:34)

Throughout the Judeo-Christian faith, then, the image of the shepherd has been stamped upon people's thinking. Jesus, notably, taps into this imagery when in John's gospel he is recorded as saying "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11).

Among so many scriptural shepherd images, followers of Jesus can have confidence that they have a shepherd who is genuine. How do we know that? Well, because this shepherd is the one who comes seeking all those who have gone astray and has compassion for their situation. He knows each of them and loves them to such a degree that he willing lays down his life for them.

Sheep tending shepherds were in short supply in the industrialised Liverpool of my youth, as they may have been in yours. The important thing for you and I to remember and give thanks for however, is that the Good Shepherd still found us and that in the joys, and trials of life he is with us, as he promised he would be (Matt 28:20). He calls us by our own name (John 10:3) and if we listen to HIS voice, like the psalmist, we can trust that 'we shall not be in want'.

With every blessing to you all.

John