If there is one image associated with the Christian faith which has found an enduring and endearing place in the collective life of the church for centuries, it is the image of Jesus as the good shepherd. In the Bible there are over 500 references to sheep. In Psalm 100 verse 3 we read “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”

Penny Jamieson, in her book “Living at the Edge: Sacrament and Solidarity in Leadership” (London: Mowbray 1997) likens the sheepfold to “womb-space”, where people can grow and experience the life-giving power of the Spirit. As a minister, she talks about “holding the space” or holding the boundaries by her attitudes, responses and prayer. The “sheepfold” gives people a safe and secure place to grow with Jesus as the “good shepherd”. The shepherd’s relationship with the sheep is one of attentive watchfulness. The rod and the staff are to bring the sheep back to safety should they wander. He feeds his flock and finds water for them. The good shepherd would lay himself across the entrance at night to intercept any intruder, risking his own life.

Jesus the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (verse 15). Today’s Gospel is also a reflection on Jesus’ death. In order to make His Father known, Jesus cares for his own so deeply that he is prepared to die for them. This death is not only for the immediate flock (or those listening to his words). He lays down his life so that there will be a gathering of the other sheep, (not yet of this fold) in order for them to come together to form one flock (verse 16). Today’s Gospel, in its emphasis on Jesus ‘preparedness to give himself in love so that we might also love and overcome our divisions, challenges the very core of our claim to be Christian.

Rev Adelene Mills