This Sunday we hear verses of scripture that have inspired countless greeting cards and mass produced paintings of Jesus – the Good Shepherd. Wayward sheep flung over his shoulders, Jesus brings the wayward sheep home. “The good shepherd,” says Jesus, “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.”
Pastors are too quickly tempted to draw a comparison between themselves and the good shepherd or the hired hand. I think I know better than that. I’m certainly not the good shepherd, and I’ve definitely had my share of hired hand moments. In reality though I know I’m just another sheep. Sometimes I’m one of the sheep of this fold, and at other times I’m one of those sheep of another fold. Sometime I know my shepherd’s voice, and at other times I think I hear it coming to me from out of some other fold – the voice of a mystic poet, a secular songwriter, a curious student, a wise teacher.
How quickly we assume as Christians that we are already a part of the Good Shepherd’s fold! Yet, when this story was first told it was the Gentiles who were the sheep of another fold. God took the story of a “chosen people” to announce to the whole world that all people are chosen people. When we begin acting like we are part of the “chosen” flock, it’s just about then that we hear God’s voice coming to us from over a hill, leading us through the valley of death to the other side where we discover just how big God’s flock really is.