Shepherds have long held a presence in the story of Israel. Sheep were part of Abraham’s, Isaac’s, and Jacob’s, and the 12 patriarchs’ lives. Moses, too, was a shepherd. Therefore, it is not a surprise that he talks about the people of Israel needing a shepherd. And, after being “bitten” by them numerous times, he probably thought they acted like sheep. Moses even goes and uses shepherding language (go and come back) to describe his successor.
Goes and comes back terminology is used by Jesus, too, as he calls himself the shepherd. Jesus goes further and says that his sheep will know his voice, and run from the voice of a stranger. What’s really interesting is that John then makes an aside and calls it a figure of speech. As John was writing much later, one can safely assume that John saw many “running” away from Jesus, who had once proclaimed to follow Jesus. Thus he saw Jesus’ words more figural because the sheep sure didn’t seem to be listening.
When taking all the sheep and shepherding imagery together, it becomes a little more obvious that when Jesus sends out the 72, his expectations are not high. He calls them lambs. This means that they are innocent. In many respects, lambs are innocent even of what it means to be a sheep. The innocent lamb being sent out has no protection in the herd, meaning that the threat of wolves is even more significant. This lamb has no protection (money, food, clothing, weapon).
The other part of being called lambs, especially in the light of the shepherd, is that they are his little lambs of his little flock. Someday, they grow up to be big sheep. As big sheep, they will lead, guide, and teach the new lambs what it means to be sheep, and who the shepherd is, who the shepherd isn’t, all while the shepherd isn’t present.
1) Who are the lambs in the church (don’t jump to just the easy answers!)?
2) Who are the “big sheep” in the church (again, don’t jump to just the easy answers!)?
3) How do you, we, the church teach who the shepherd is? Can you think of new ways? What about old ways no longer used?