Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father." John 10:11-18
I have had the privilege to go to sheep camp several times with my dear friend Cornelia. The labs and ewe in the picture are her sheep, which she cares for with great tenderness. Several years ago she had me bottle feed a little lamb who had a crooked back and whose mother had rejected. I worried the little guy would never get straightened out but now he is strong and healthy. We are known by named, loved and cared for ever so much.
Jesus uses and image that his listeners can relate to. Sheep were the mainstay of the region where he lived. Few people had much more than their sheep, which were their food, their clothing, their livelihood. They understood how essential sheep were and at the same time they knew how challenging, ornery and difficult caring for sheep could be. And yet they understood the love and care given. We are invited to hear that we are each called by name, known and love beyond our challenges and our oneriness.
Today I ask God to feel safety in the arms of the loving shepherd. May we know we are cared for and led, protected and guided in every pasture. May we find solace in the life laid down for us and offer that same love to the world around us.
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.