I was watching a TV show the other night and a person when about to die says – “well, I guess my number is up”. How often are you identified with a number? At the bank you have account numbers, PIN numbers and credit card numbers with expiry dates and security number on the back that you have to constantly quote. The taxation department identifies you by your Tax File Number. You have a Medicare number. When you enquire about a bill you are asked is, “What is your customer number?” When you go to McDonalds you are assigned a number and you pick up your order when your number is called. If you are in business you need an ABN When driving you’re identified by your licence number and your registration number. Numbers are so impersonal. You are not a number to God but it’s your name that is important to God.
When Moses was sent by God to free Israel from slavery God didn’t given him a special weapon to fight Pharaoh with – he gave him his name. Names are so important that God has enshrined his own name by the 2nd Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain. Philippians, when telling us about Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice says that God gave to him – the name that is above all names that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.
In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak words that give us comfort knowing that we are more than a number to God. Jesus tells us about the very personal and intimate relationship that he has with us. He says, my sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he says, as our Good Shepherd – “I know my sheep and my sheep know me—And that knowing goes right back to your Baptism where you are named before God – Peter James Ghalayini – I baptise you in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We can be excused for not quite connecting with this illustration that Jesus has given as our Good Shepherd and we as his sheep. The Australian sheep farmer does not give off the same type of image that we read about in the Bible. We would rarely see a Shepherd today lay down his life for one of his sheep. We would rarely see a shepherd lie across the sheep pen to act as a gate to stop predators attacking them. We would rarely see a shepherd leave 99 sheep to go looking for a single lost sheep. And that’s why Jesus, when referring to himself as our Shepherd says he is our “Good Shepherd”
Jesus does things for us that others would not do, especially fulfilling what he said about himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
That’s what we have just celebrated again this Easter.
Jesus is also connecting himself to the Old Testament imagery that we read in Psalm 23. King David, the writer of Psalm 23, refers to the Lord as my shepherd. There is nothing I need – I shall not be in want. I will not be afraid for you are with me.
King David is expressing the personal relationship that God had with him. King David went through difficult times with the previous King, King Saul, refusing to give up his kingship after God took it away from him and gave it to the young shepherd David. As our Good Shepherd King David speaks about Jesus being with us wherever we go. He is there in green pastures to celebrate in good times. He leads me beside still waters bringing us peace in times of distress
He revives my soul when the stresses and pressures of life wear us down.
He guides me along the right path for his Name’s sake to help us when we don’t know which way we should go in a particular situation.
He is there in times of grief and despair so that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me;
He is there to spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies to protect me from dangers;
There is never a time or place in our lives when his goodness and mercy don’t follow us all the days of our lives. And especially important is his promise – I am with you always till the end of the age when I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
There are times when it seems that Jesus is not so close to us. When he seems anything but the Good Shepherd. We have prayed for help in times of sickness and the pain is as intense as ever. We have asked him to guide us through some difficult decisions but we have taken the wrong direction. We have wanted him to watch over our loved ones, but they have still been caught up in trouble and accidents. But the fact is that Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere.
It’s not about how we feel but what we know about Jesus our Good Shepherd.
He is right here with us. He knows what is happening in our lives. He knows how anxious we are. Jesus’ promise to be with us is assured even when we are doubting and despairing. He promises: “I am the good Shepherd, I know my sheep”. Even though we are down and almost out, we are assured that we are in the arms of the everlasting shepherd who lovingly supports and strengthens us in our weakest and most painful moments, and no one can snatch us out of those loving arms.
The image of the Good Shepherd is one of love and closeness. And as his followers, we share the same concerns as he has, and show our love in very practical ways, as Jesus did.
As he said to Peter when reassuring him of his love for him he said that that love is shown in physical ways: Feed my sheep; Care for my sheep; Jesus calls us to become shepherds to one another. We are to be shepherds to one another as members of this congregation and parish. We are to be shepherds to one another in our families, in our work, in our schools, in our sports and hobbies and amongst our friends. Just as Jesus shepherds us with his love, we shepherd those whom God has placed in our lives with that same love. That was his new commandment before he died – love one another as I have loved you.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that we have a loving shepherd who walks with us through the good and bad. And that day when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death he will walk with us and lead us to the glorious new life beyond the grave. Because we have a loving shepherd, our Good Shepherd, whose goodness and love will follow us all our lives and we will live in the house of the Lord forever.