Perhaps the most beloved and enduring of all the images we treasure of Jesus is Christ “The Good Shepherd”. I think that’s true because the metaphor is multivalent in the what it communicates to people of faith. Of course, the shepherd is clearly a leader and guide who the sheep trust to keep them safe and to find nourishment to sustain and help them grow. We confess this each time we say the oft-memorized 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie in green pastures, and leads me by the still waters”. This image of Christ is pastoral and peaceful, and we are soothed knowing that all things can be faced if we follow the lead of the one true and good shepherd.
Christ the Good Shepherd is also a protector of the sheep. The shepherd leads us away from danger, the things that would seek to hurt us or even take our lives from us. The Good Shepherd is always present, never leaving the sheep to fend for themselves, preferring to give up his own life, rather than endanger those under his care.
Our Good Shepherd is also committed to never giving up on us. Even though we stray off the path of discipleship, the watchful shepherd both calls and prods us into returning to the fold, never desiring that even one of us be lost forever. This shepherd is faithful to his flock, and to his mission of care even of those who don’t love him back.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd is also the gate, an often misunderstood metaphor which some people claim separates some sheep from the others – as if the Good Shepherd only allows a certain kind of sheep to be dmitted to his care. But the gate is not there to keep the sheep out, but to keep out those who might want to do harm to the sheep. The key to understanding Jesus as the gate, is not to assume it is a tool for sorting, the good sheep from the bad sheep, but to give us assurance that our connection to Christ is always a life-giving and life-enhancing relationship. This Good Shepherd engages only in life-giving activities for the good of all the sheep under his care. The gate is always an instrument of life, never a separator that dooms some to death while selecting others to live.
When you look at the beloved icon of the Good Shepherd, or recite the 23rd Psalm in a moment of prayer, remember all these images of Jesus, our Good Shepherd knowing that you have been claimed into God’s holy flock for life, for abundant life, for eternal life.
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Devotions for Week of May 7, 2017
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.