Why “Shepherd”?

Jesus, the Lamb of God reading the Book of Life.
(Since I could not find a MS image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.)

This past Sunday was “Good Shepherd Sunday,” so-called because of the reading from John 10. The entire chapter is full of sheep and shepherd imagery and, for many of us, it is a reminder of how far away from that agrarian experience we are. A colleague on Facebook asked, “So what’s a good 21st C equivalent of a Good Shepherd? Good Librarian? Good Trash Collector? Good Barista?” I think it is an excellent question, a great point of contemplation. How would we “update” the language and should we update the language?

There were many interesting and humorous suggestions. Most were professions or interpersonal relationships such as nurse, mentor, teacher, and so on. Perhaps because of my administrative background some will not be surprised with my contribution. I suggested that, if we were to update the language, perhaps it could be the “Good Manager” (of course, there is a parable already of the Bad Manager, Luke 16). A good manager is one who should be caring for and ensuring the best for all those for whom the manager is responsible. The analogy could be extended that a good manager should be helping their staff each find their strengths, build them up, and put them in the best situation for success. Furthermore, when the a manager is doing their job well it is the others who move to the fore, the entire enterprise flourishes, and, if the organization has strong moral motives, the society and community at large will benefit.

Yet it seems to me we should not update the language, but rather educate ourselves and our congregations. The contrast and distance between shepherd and sheep is deeply relevant to this metaphor. Sheep are simply on a vastly lower level of intelligence and sentience than a human. So Jesus, the “Good Shepherd,” is above and beyond ourselves. The sheep, knowing by their experience processed in their more limited cognitive ability, come to trust the shepherd and follow that voice alone. The shepherd cares for the sheep in a way that they cannot care for themselves. And the analogy goes on… If we accept that, then I am not sure we can do better than herder/animals. 

Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

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.

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