Called to Follow
Reading: John 10:1-13
Jesus uses the relationship of a shepherd and his flock to teach his questioners, sceptical Pharisees, who he really is. The discussion follows the healing of a blind man, who ends up believing in Jesus as the Messiah, the promised king of Israel. He can now see; the Pharisees, however, had become blind to the truth.
Several times in the Old Testament the king is described as a shepherd of his people. The Messiah would be a king who is a good shepherd, genuinely caring for his people, not seeking power or wealth or pleasure. The rulers of Jesus’ day, and the would-be messiahs, did not really care for their ‘sheep’. And the test of whether these people were true messiahs or not was whether their ‘sheep’ recognised their care and felt safe. The blind man had just been thrown out of the synagogue by the authorities; Jesus had then found him, and the man responded with faith. He was a true sheep of the true shepherd; the authorities were false shepherds.
The relationship of a shepherd to his sheep was very close. Wild sheep flocks are usually led by an old ewe, on whose wisdom and experience all the sheep depend. The Middle Eastern shepherds take the place of the leader of the flock; the sheep learn to trust them implicitly, and their natural instinct to flock together and to follow their leader enables the shepherd to lead them wherever he wants them to go. The sheep get to know his voice, and he knows each sheep as an individual; the sheep even recognise their own names that the shepherd has given them and respond to his call.
At night sheep would be kept in a sheep-fold – either in a cave, or in part of a house, or in a stone-walled enclosure. Several flocks could be kept together. There might be a gate, with a gate-keeper in charge of it; or a shepherd might sleep in the gap and be himself the gate.
In John 10 Jesus uses various aspects of sheep farming to teach about himself.
a) The shepherd has authority to lead the sheep – an authority recognised by the sheep (as in the case of the blind man) and by the door-keeper. (Is he referring to his Father, who gave him the sheep v.29?)
b) The shepherd cares for the sheep, giving protection at night (‘I am the gate’) and finding good pasture by day.
c) The shepherd saves the sheep from danger, even at the cost of his life because – unlike a hired hand – he cares so much for his sheep.
Jesus can only lead, protect, and save those who follow him as part of his ‘flock’. Sheep need:
a) To keep an eye on their shepherd. To follow Jesus we need to think how he might react to the situations we are in.
b) To be willing to stop what they are doing and respond immediately to their shepherd’s call. If Jesus calls us to act, we need to hear and obey!
c) To go where the shepherd is going. There are times for pasture, for water, for rest; and times for the valley of the shadow of death. We need to keep up with Jesus, not to go our own way.
d) (In the wild) to imitate what the leader is doing. Young sheep can learn about salt licks, or safe ways to cross rivers (for example) from the older sheep. Followers imitate their leader; we imitate what we see Jesus doing – and what we see closer followers doing.
TO THINK ABOUT
1) Why do we follow Jesus? For security? For love? Or what?
2) What is easy, and what is difficult, about following Jesus?