I am the Good Shepherd

  • Created by: ciarat123
  • Created on: 17-03-19 19:53

The imagery Jesus uses

Jesus is using imagery very familiar to his listeners in 1st Century Palestine.

Peasant shepherds would herd their sheep into a stonewalled yard beside the house or barn.

Sheep were the main farming animal in this region wool and mutton Robbers would rustle sheep and wolves would try and make off with a meal.

The shepherds, the lowest paid farm workers, with little incentive, risked their lives to protect someone else's flock.

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What each being means in the imagery

The sheep represent the ordinary Jewish people, the lost sheep of Israel, as Jesus calls them in Matthew's Gospel.

If Jesus is the gate, then He is the way for the sheep to leave the pen and enter the pastures which is the symbol of eternal life. This echoes John 14:6 " I am the way the truth and the life, no one enters the father except through me."

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Motivation of the Good Shepherd

Unlike the hired help who only guard the flock because they are being poorly paid, the Good Shepherd is motivated by love. Other Bible passages link Jesus to a Good Shepherd who will not allow a single sheep to become lost. In real life, sheep would wander away from the flock and become lost, perhaps getting trapped in a ditch. A dedicated shepherd would go in search of the sheep. This is reference to God's Word becoming flesh, coming out to seek lost souls.

Paintings of Jesus as a shepherd is common in Christian art. The idea of the heroic shepherd goes back to King David. In his youth, David was a shepherd who fought off lions to defend his father's flock. Jesus is in the line of David and like David is defending his father's flock, but His Father is God and the flock is the entire Jewish people.

When Jesus talks about laying his life down for the sheep he is predicting His crucifixion. David only had to face lions and survived. Jesus has to face the Sadducees and Pharisees and the Roman Empire, but He is prepared to die to atone death to save people from sin. 

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The Good Shepherd's ID

The OT often uses the image of God as the Good Shepherd so by claiming to be the shepherd, Jesus is identifying Himself as God. 

Jesus insists that His sheep know Him, they have a relationship with Him because they believe in Him rather than just follow His rules. Jesus offers a relationship of love with his followers unlike the Pharisees who offer only rules to follow. This is the same for the love that exists between Himself and God. This echoes the reference in the Prologue to the Word of God knowing God and bringing this knowledge to humans.

Jesus adds a crucial extra detail, the Good Shepherd has other sheep too and will go in search of them. These other sheep are the Gentiles. Jesus' atoning death will not just be to save the Jewish people, but all people.

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The implications of this Saying

The earliest Christian leaders were called Pastors, the Latin for Shepherd. Bishops carried a sign of their authority, a crozier, modeled on a Shepherd's crook. Brown proposes that the pastors appeared in Christian churches before John's Gospel was written, but the Johannine community didn't have pastors and was more egalitarian than the other Christian churches at the time. Therefore, this passage about Jesus being the Good Shepherd is meant to say that Christ, not any human, is the true pastor of the church. 

The freewheeling Johannine community didn't last and Bishops grew more powerful in the Christian churches. Christianity became a hierarchal religion, with ranks and power at the top. These leader have sometimes exploited this power and abused their followers, e.g directing war during the crusades. Critics say that the imagery of the shepherd and sheep is partly responsible for this. Sheep are unintelligent and directionless; they cannot survive in the world without the shepherd to keep them safe. Viewing Christian believers as sheep suggets that Christianity has a low opinion of them and encourages blind faith.

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