How does a good shepherd look after their sheep? The good shepherd allows the lambs to run around knowing this activity will help them become strong. The sheep make their own decisions about where to move around in the fields to find the best grass and to find shelter from wind and rain. The good shepherd does not direct the every movement of each sheep and lamb. They recognise that the lambs have to learn by their mistakes and learn to look after themselves and avoid dangers.
What the good shepherd does do is protect the sheep. They ensure there is a gate and might sometimes act as the gate. They understand the foibles of their sheep. They look out for danger and will risk their own lives to protect the sheep in their care. They know their sheep and their sheep know them.
The metaphor of Jesus as Shepherd is a powerful one with its emphasis on Jesus laying down his life for the sheep. It is a reassurance to know that Jesus is our shepherd who knows us and protects us. But the cororary is that we as sheep need to be deliberate in keeping alert and healthy through exploring, sustaining ourselves, and seeking to look after the lambs in our care. If we want the Good Shepherd to know us we need to continually seek to know him.
As we focus this Sunday on Jesus as Shepherd let us reflect on what being a responsible sheep might mean. How might we explore the way we can contribute to the lives and hopes of those around us? How do we use the freedom to roam to enable us to see opportunities so we can sustain ourselves and others? In the words of Handel's Messiah 'All we like sheep have gone astray' but we all have the privilege and the responsibility to learn from our mistakes and then use the freedoms we have to be the best Christian citizens we can be in our community and nation.