Cowboys “drive” cattle. But shepherds “lead” sheep. It’s hardly a subtle distinction. The Good Shepherd does not stampede us towards salvation. He calls his flock. We know his voice. We follow him knowing that his way is the right way. It is God’s way and it leads to redemption, resurrection and eternal life.
The Good Shepherd has earned our trust. He went to the cross for us. And in the glory of Easter, in the rebirth of spring, he’s back among us. The gentle Jesus is risen triumphant over sin and death. Look around you through the eyes of faith. He is in our midst… comforting, encouraging, protecting… leading us home.
In John’s gospel, Jesus uses the “I am” formulation repeatedly to illustrate different aspects of his mission. In John 10, Jesus uses the construction twice: I am the gate. And, I am the Good Shepherd. The metaphors are different. The message is the same. Jesus is proclaiming his leadership. He is enlisting our followership.
The leadership lesson of Jesus is clear. The Good Shepherd is the ultimate servant/leader. He lives for his flock. He dies for his flock. The followership lesson is a bit harder to grasp. 21st Century Christians probably have some difficulty identifying with sheep. It’s not just that we’re city slickers who’ve lost our farm roots. Our pride tells us we’re smarter than sheep. We’ll listen to the sermons. We’ll say the prayers. But we have our reservations. It’s a natural function of the ego-driven culture that surrounds us. With everything from assertiveness training to Brazilian butt-lifts, our society screams: “It’s all about me!”
So where do we learn followership? Start with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In scripture Jesus conducts a timeless seminar on leadership and followership. And the primary lesson is: Love. Jesus is literally the embodiment of God’s love. We are drawn to his love. It fills a void in our being that God created precisely for that purpose. We are not scolded or coerced or bullied into love. That is not the Good Shepherd’s way. His love is the call that we follow.
It is echoed back to us in the voices of saints… both old and new. We hear it from Martin Luther King in the Birmingham Jail… from Mother Teresa in a Calcutta slum… from Billy Graham on his last crusade. They tell us that Jesus was not some well-meaning prophet who got himself killed. They tell us he is our living, loving Savior… faithful to the cross and beyond. He walks among us today. He calls us today.
My friend Bill, a former IBM engineer, answered that call last month. He is teaching poor kids in Peru. Another family of friends spent last summer building a clinic in Uganda. They and countless Christians continue to hear the Shepherd and follow him.
And what is our answer to Christ’s love call? “Sorry I’m busy.” “I gave at the office.” “I’d like to help, but not right now.” There’s an encyclopedia of excuses. I’ve heard them all. And I’ve used a lot of them. Chances are you have too. But the Good Shepherd does not give up on us. He is relentless. Listen for him. Follow him. That may not mean a mission to the third-world. It may mean just more quiet time with Jesus… or reaching out to a neighbor who’s struggling… overlooking a slight… forgiving a hurt. But what better way to spend the Easter season than listening for the voice of the risen Savior? What better way than answering the Good Shepherd’s call?