The story of the good shepherd has loads of images
A Shepherd? Have you met one? I have an image of a weather beaten man with a sheepdog on the Welsh hills or the man in the Specsavers add on TV! Or David sitting on a Palestinian hill or Brokeback Mountain with those beautiful scene of the hills and the shepherds on horseback. Shepherd's care for their sheep and protect them from wolves. When I was little my favourite book was about Sooty the sheepdog who fought off the bad wolf who came to harass the sheep and even stole one. Powerful imagery. Enough to drive you into the church? Or to a rural idyll?
The sheep gate is less clear to me. But my grandma had a picture of sheep in her bedroom and when I stayed over she told me to count sheep. The sheep were enclosed in a field by a gate. So the gate also protected the sheep and controlled who came in and who came out.
The Shepherds voice. Sheep and sheep dog are trained to respond to the shepherds voice. A shout, a word, a whistle means everything-from the shepherd. There is the story of the man who gets lost in the mountains in a snow storm. He hears the voice of a well known mountain guide who tells him to jump. It’s a drop and he cant see what is at the bottom but he trusts the voice. He jumps and is saved.
Sheep have a bad press. “Like sheep”! “Dressed like mutton”…but also “Like a lamb” for trusting passivity. Sheep are lost without a leader, a shepherd. They will die without a good shepherd.
Gates. Some powerful gates for me are the gates to the nunnery on Iona, which are latticed and latched and creak in the dark, dark nights on the island. Or the sheep gate on Holy Island which was a metal gate that lets only one person through and is too complex for the sheep in the field to fathom. There are other gates. The gates to a prison, the gates to an old church, heavy and old with a loud clunk when it shuts. Gates control space and are boundaries to activity. Gate keepers are important people like lock keepers and shepherds.
Probably the most powerful image of Jesus is as the good shepherd with the lost sheep on his shoulders. Jesus the good shepherd has come to seek and save the lost sheep. But of course the most well known biblical text is the “Lords my Shepherd” Psalm 23. So it’s a very powerful image of God too.
Shepherds themselves need to eat, sleep and rest because they are potentially on call to rescue lost sheep and they need to be alert and wise to wolves (in sheeps clothing?).
Who in your life has been a good shepherd to you? Ian died suddenly. He was a senior paramedic at WMAS -and he cared about people-loads of people. He was a good shepherd.
One Anglican Bishop practiced his sermons by preaching to his sheep when he was first ordained. They listened to his voice, which they recognized. They stayed near to him knowing that they were safe there. Perhaps congregations reacted differently!
In our time there are many voices competing for our attention. In this recession there will be even more (like Hitler, Moseley in the recessions of the 1930's). We may lose the voice of the good shepherd and go astray from time to time and fall into danger, perhaps following a voice that sounds strong and smart and seductive, but different. We may follow a path that leads us away from Christ. Whose voice do we follow? What gate do we enter by? What gate do we lead others through? I leave you to ponder. Good shepherds have integrity like that mountain guide, they know the terrain, life's terrain. Don't go trusting any old shepherd!