To sum up the sermon emphasis, it was “sheep and shepherds.” The Gospel reading was from John 10:11-18, about the Good Shepherd, Jesus, as a metaphor (actually a metonymy—a figure of speech such that the name of one thing stand for that of another) of the shepherd being equated with himself. In a direct quote, Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd knows his sheep (10:16) and will lay down his life for the sheep” (10:11). And in Psalm 23:1 we read “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing….”
Quite remarkably, Jesus also said that he has other sheep that are not of the sheep pen he is referring to and “I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 19:16). There are various interpretations of who these other sheep pen are: from various denominations and religions to aliens!
The reference to a shepherd was first used in the Bible in Genesis 29:3: “When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep.” Throughout the Bible, the word shepherd occurs 95 times in the OT and 23 times in the new. Most often the word shepherd refers to a person who actually watches over sheep, but it may also occur metaphorically as one who is in charge of a flock of sheep or goats.
Jesus observed that a large crowd were like a sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34), so he taught them, like a shepherd would.
When Jesus was born there were shepherds living out in their fields, watching over their flocks, but when the angels informed them of Jesus’s birth, they left the sheep and went to find him. They were amazed and “returned, glorifying and praising God” for what they had heard and seen (Luke 2:20).
Jesus as Shepherd led Eric (our pastor) to refer to the Chalcedonian Definition of Christ as God and man, where he is “acknowledged in two natures”, which “come together into one person and one hypostasis.” That probably escaped the interest of most of the congregation. Hypostasis was a technical (theological) term that meant that Christ’s humanity and divinity were joined in union in one existence. That probably also passed over the congregation, but he had warned us that we needed our “theological crash helmets” on to counter the theological bombardment of Bishop Cyril, who lived in the fifth century. Not many members of DaySpring specialize in 5th century theology. The theological discussion led to a schism between the Eastern and Western churches. Fortunately, we didn’t get into that aspect of church history.
The point about sheep and shepherds was that people at different times have different images and for the early church the images of the two were clear. We now know little or nothing about sheep and their habits, except that they are “dumb” and that rods and staffs are used to contain and control them. Our image of Jesus is not so much as a shepherd but as an “astro-Jesus” or a respectable Jesus, a kind of Jesus Christ Superstar in which everything is modernized to suit our tastes.
The point is well taken, although probably soon forgotten. We look at Warner Sallman’s head of Christ, which sold more that 500 million copies, and think that is what Jesus looked like. Early church art depicted him quite differently. The picture here is from the 3rd century and is found in the St. Callisto catacomb in Rome.
To see the painting tourists are advised to buy tickets and join tour groups. There are price guarantees and even online adventures.
Of course, we have no idea exactly what the painter believed, or even what he had in mind, when he did the painting. We can guess, but that is about all.
We know that kings were also referred to as the shepherds of their people. But they had armies instead of rods and staffs.
The lesson seems clear: Jesus is the Shepherd who is to guide us sheep—who are often quite dumb—through our lives.