Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Good Shepherd as a leadership model: a sermon (Ezekiel 34:1-10; Psalm 23; John 10:11-18)

In English, and in most other western languages, we easily use the word “shepherd” as an image for people with religious responsibilities.  This is a result of such passages in the Bible as some of today’s lessons.

·        In our Psalm for today, the writer of the Psalm uses the image of strength and care found in a shepherd protecting a flock of sheep as a metaphor for God’s strong care for humanity, even in times of danger.

·        In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus continues this image, describing himself as the Good Shepherd who – as part of this strong care – risks his life for the sheep.

Now, the lesson we heard from the book of Ezekiel was not one of the lectionary’s set lessons for today, but I included it because of its parallels with our gospel lesson. 

·        Ezekiel criticised shepherds who did not search for sheep who were scattered.  Jesus spoke of himself as a shepherd who seeks out the sheep.

·        Ezekiel criticised shepherds who did not feed their sheep, but who, instead, fed themselves from their flocks.  Jesus spoke of himself as a shepherd who will assist the sheep to find pasture.

·        Ezekiel criticised shepherds who did not exert themselves to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators.  Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd whose vocation is to lay down his life for the sheep.

Jesus must have had this passage from Ezekiel in mind when he spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd.

Now, as I said in the beginning of this talk, in English, as in most western languages, we use the word “shepherd” as an image for a person with religious responsibilities.  So, for example, when we speak of pastoral care, or when we call a minister in some churches a pastor, we use a word that comes from the Latin word for a shepherd.

But this wasn’t the way the word was used at the time of Jesus, and definitely not before the time of Jesus.  When Ezekiel criticised the shepherds of the nation, he was not referring to the members of the religious establishment, but to the political leadership, the king and his advisers.  (I checked this out in three different commentaries and they all made this point.  I have rarely found such unanimity on any point among biblical scholars.)

So, when Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and presents us with this example of hands-on, personally involved, often risky, servant leadership, Jesus is not only presenting this as an model for good leadership in religious contexts.  Jesus gives us this image of himself as the Good Shepherd as a model for good leadership in all of the contexts in which we live and work, and exercise leadership.

·        The example of hands-on, personally involved, often risky, servant leadership that Jesus provides when he calls himself the Good Shepherd is as relevant to people with leadership roles in business, government, education, or health care as it is to ministers and priests of churches. 

·        This example is as relevant to people involved as volunteers with leadership roles in “secular” community organisations as it is to laypeople with leadership roles in local congregations. 

·        This example is as relevant to a parent of children, or to a carer of an aged person, as it is to a Bishop or a Moderator.

Jesus gives us all this image of himself as the Good Shepherd as a model for good leadership - hands-on, personally involved, often risky, servant leadership - in all of the contexts in which we live and work, and exercise leadership.

And, just as Jesus reminded his listeners that the Good Shepherd leads his flock to pasture, so Jesus also feeds us, and he feeds us with extravagant generosity.  In the sacrament we shall soon celebrate, Jesus gives us himself as food and drink.  Christ the Good Shepherd leads us and feeds us with extravagant generosity. 

1 comment:

Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.