By Cynthia Weems
South East District Superintendent
Every day we encounter examples of bad shepherds, don’t we? Those who use authority and influence to lead people in the wrong direction. Those who use words and vitriol to create anxiety in their flock. Those who pay more attention to themselves than to those they are called to shepherd.
The image of the Good Shepherd is an ancient one. It is an image of what God, and the king (appointed by God), should be – a Good Shepherd – just like the one we hear about in Psalm 23 or in the words of Jesus from John 10. In much of the Old Testament the kings are ridiculed because they are not living up to the expectations of the Good Shepherd. And once the Israelites could no longer rely on human kings to be their shepherd, all of the hopes for this shepherd were then transferred to the messianic king – the one they were waiting for.
For Christians, Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd. We see this role in his life and ministry and we have each felt the presence of Jesus like a shepherd in our own lives. In this passage from Acts today, we are also reminded of our own role as shepherds as we seek to share the good news of God with others, and to do so by caring for them over and above ourselves.
Now, most of us have little experience with shepherding sheep. The image may seem comical to modern readers of scripture. But I, like most preachers I can think of, cannot find a better, more contemporary image to use. When sitting in a hospital room holding the hand of someone near death, “I am the good shepherd….who lays down his life for the sheep” really cannot be surpassed in power and strength. “The Lord is my shepherd” is what all of us, I believe, want and need to hear when we are struggling with the depths of pain and despair. Sheep or no sheep, the Lord is my shepherd. And those who are a part of my parish, or neighborhood, or community are those God has called me to “guard and protect” as a shepherd.
Each of us in our own way is called to be a shepherd to others — called to reign in and care for the flock. We are needed. We are important. We, too, must tend to those we are called to lead. In this season of Lent, I encourage you to pray for those for whom you are the shepherd. “Be on your toes” and watch, wait, and guide those under your care. Indeed, the Lord felt they were worth dying for.
Prayer: O Lord, help me to understand the magnitude of the work you have call me to as shepherd of my home, my community, my neighbors, my people. Give me strength to guide, nurture, and care for them as you have sacrificed for us all. Amen.
1. Who is a shepherd in your life? Who is someone who has been a guide, protector, or nurturer for you in your life and faith?
2. What does it mean for you to be a shepherd? What tasks must you take up? What tasks must you leave behind?
3. What is the primary attitude of a shepherd? What spiritual gifts make up the work of a shepherd in contemporary life?