Jesus tells us a thing or two or three about good shepherding in John 10. Fresh off the confrontation with the religious establishment of his day over the man born blind whom Jesus healed (recorded in John 9), Jesus declares that he is the Good Shepherd, not like those religious shepherds who fail to care for God’s people (Compare this text with Ezekiel 34 for a sense of the staggering claim the Jesus disclosed in this chapter is making). Jesus announces,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep (John 10:11-13).
What do we learn of good shepherds from this text?
Good shepherds are not ravenous wolves: wolves steal the lives of the people.
Good shepherds are not hired hands: hired hands sell their time and labor to the people.
While it does not talk about volunteers, and no matter how good volunteers are, good shepherds are not volunteers: volunteers donate their time and labor to people.
In contrast, good shepherds labor to lay down their lives for their people—daily. There is no compartmentalization or professional distance: good shepherds are all in.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for his followers, and, indeed, for the whole world.
Last week, I wrote a post titled “Christian America and the Cruciform Church.” There I wrote that
The church in North America must continue to move beyond Christian America ways. Over against a nostalgic and melancholic return to Christendom by way of seeking to make space for God in society by taking America back for God (God of the gaps), the church moves forward through union with God’s missions of Son and Spirit for the transformation of society in cruciform witness. Rather than seeking to gain or regain rights and power, the church on this view gains significance as it suffers redemptively in service to God and its enemies (God in the gallows).
Further to last week’s blog post, and in view of Jesus’ life as disclosed in John 10, Christian shepherds who follow Jesus are called to lay down their lives for people in the gallows of existence, just like the Lord and his servant Bonhoeffer.
How do we move beyond a God of the gaps kind of thinking, a hired hand or hired preaching/teaching/marketing gun kind of being, to a laying down our lives kind of engagement in view of our union and communion with Christ as Christian leaders?
What will sustain us in this cruciform kind of engagement? See 1 Peter 5:1-4 for some clues. Reflect also on John 15’s discussion of the need to abide in Christ.
I address this topic more in The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town.