The previous post in theI Ams of God: A Life of Practice seriesled us through an encounter where Jesus said, “I AM the door.” He was humbling the Pharisees, letting them know that their profession should not be based around establishing rules for people but the shepherding their hearts, and that they could no longer get away with this misuse of power. Jesus finishes his statements to and about them telling them not once but twice that he is the Good Shepherd.
Many of us have been shepherded poorly. And even poorly may be an understatement. There has been a term circulating over the past few years: spiritual abuse. At times we can experience an over-correction from a yoga teacher, a rebuke from a pastor or groupthink with a spiritual community from the wrong angle. Yet when one is repeatedly held to a form beyond grace injury becomes abuse.
The pharisees Jesus knew were aware what they were doing. They said they were keeping the law of the Torah, yet what they were actually doing was applying legalism to the Israelites in order to appeal to the Roman leadership. Their accountability was not to the spirit of the law but to an outside source for which they oppressed God’s people.
They had forgotten…
Jewish culture was based upon it’s most noble profession — shepherding. It was a profession all levels of society knew about and in one form or another relied upon. The profession has always been part of the vernacular and what Jesus used was familiar and intrinsic to their culture to explain just who He has always been — the Good Shepherd.
What Jesus describes in this passage from John 10is not a duty he has over us but and intimacy He carries out with who He calls His own. He says, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Aside from our basic needs needs of food, clothing and shelter, our next most basic need is to be know and understood — to feel connected. And He states that he has the same intimacy with us as His sheep as He does with his Father, in so much that he was willing to give up his life for us. That is true connectedness — true intimacy. Yet what do we find when we delve into this connectedness, this intimacy with the Good Shepherd?
Jewish pastoral society know things about shepherds that weren’t obvious today. These people that surrounded Jesus weren’t just drawn to him, within they craved within their souls a Good Shepherd. First, they knew that the shepherd gave his sheep is undivided attention — that he was there for them with no distractions — his focus was upon his sheep. The term Good Shepherd resonated with them. A shepherds practice, vocation and commitment is constant, deep presence with his sheep. Circumstances can lead us to feel a bit removed and filled with longing, yet the Good Shepherd had His eye on you first, even before you knew He was there — He felt connected to you as His sheep.
Secondly, the Jews knew that a shepherd contemplated his sheep. He thought about them every waking moment. In other words, your their welfare, safety, provisions are his constant contemplation and because He is good — He wants good things of you.
Lastly, Jewish culture also knew that a shepherd was constantly engaged with the sheep — always interacting, always interested in them, always guiding them. The Good Shepherd is constantly engaged in your life. Like sheep, we don’t always know what’s going on but He is there whether behind the scenes or in the forefront — continuously and persistently with us — with a willing and open connectedness.
The Good Shepherd is here. Present.
His individual attention is upon you.
He is contemplating your needs.
His constant engagement with you is near — as close as breath.