Jesus is called The Good Shepherd and we are called to follow Jesus…so we too must be good shepherds to others. Let’s go to Matthew 9:35-38: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus used the analogy of himself as the shepherd. It is a popular theme today. It is on the window behind me here in the church….the loving, caring shepherd we want to know. Then we read these verses…
‘Jesus was in Galilee’…his home area…visiting the towns and villages…the Greek translation says cities and villages…and at the time the cities were protected places while the villages were open hamlets of shacks and tents. It would be sort of like the difference between Sumas with its boundaries and municipal jurisdiction and the unincorporated cluster of homes in over in Clearbrook…protected areas and open areas. So, it means he went everywhere.
‘Teaching in the places where people pray and meet." He preached the good news of the kingdom. Indeed, he spoke of himself and yet he spoke of the teachings of the Father…His Sermon on the Mount was likely taught over and over. And just like John the Baptist, he preached repentance that leads to forgiveness.
For many people he is an example of selfless love and care. He is an example of humility. He is an example of integrity. The world quotes him. Even people who hate Christianity use quotes from Jesus and don’t realize they are doing so. Indeed, the world is blessed by His servants. When we present anything positive and uplifting about Christ and about the Kingdom of God we are teaching the Good News and reminding people of Jesus Christ…and all the more so when we speak of salvation through Christ. But sometimes that has to wait until trust relations are built.
Then it says ‘He healed the sick and diseased’…this was the validation of who he said he was.
You know, people knew who he was claiming to be. There were always mystics running around claiming this or that…likely doing this or that supposed miracle. They were shams. We have them today. We have people on TV who are preaching about Jesus and twisting the Gospel and they are proving their so-called power by having people come up, and then they say a few words of unknown tongue gibberish and touch them with some great power and they fall over…and are total charlatans. They are well known to have actors come forward and pretend to be crippled or ill. They plead for money, money, money.
The problem is that they believe they are true messengers of Christ…and they love it because unlike the mystics of Jesus’ day, they have big organizations and airplanes and fancy cars and TV shows and books and CDs and downloads and online donations.
‘But here was the difference. Jesus cared.” Money, fame and popularity was not the focus. The next verse shows us his true character…When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd
There is the true character…He had compassion on THEM. This is a unique word in the original Greek. It comes from the Greek word splankhna…meaning “inward parts.”
Have you ever been so torn about something, maybe a tragic or devastating situation in you family, some time when you wondered how you would ever survive the situation….so strong that your entire insides reacted…from your throat to your gut? It seemed like your world was crashing in around you. You felt so empty. You are losing something so precious…like a family member who leaves or a love that walks away or an opportunity of a lifetime is lost. You just wanted to curl up and die? Life will never recover. That is this word.
It then says “His heart was broken for them”. Bob Pierce…..the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse…was touring and visiting the children of a Korean Island after World War 2. He was torn inside by the poverty and pain he saw. In the leaf of his Bible he wrote "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God."
Jesus looked out on the people and his heart was broken for the people…He was filled with compassion…deep compassion…compassion that could not be overlooked or forgotten,
And to them they were people who were harassed and helpless…the Greek says they were troubled, they were distressed, helpless…better, cast away and thrown down.
Such is the life of people without Christ. They may seem to have it all together but when the pressures of the world are on them and life is one big frustration and there are either no options to go or there are too many directions to go, when they are alone with just their thoughts…that’s when life troubled and distressed, when they feel cast away and thrown down……….this is what Jesus saw…not just the illness and injury and disease, not just the poverty, but the true picture of their heart.
As believers we feel these things and hopefully we finally realize our hope is in the Lord…but for the non-believer, help seems so distant……they are like sheep without a shepherd…susceptible to attack, to being led astray, to being hurt with no one to rescue them or bring healing. They need a shepherd. A shepherd…the Good Shepherd. Jesus was their Good Shepherd.
Many centuries earlier, at the beginning of the Hebrew, people shepherding was a noble profession. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had sheep. The people were nomadic and the sheep were their livelihood and their survival as meat and milk and wool clothing and tents made of hide.
As they settled into villages and communities, shepherding became a more menial task. By the time of David it was a job to be scorned. Remember when Samuel came to anoint a new King for Israel, the father Jesse brought his sons to Samuel…except for David, the kid that had to tend the sheep. Later David went to see his brothers when they faced the Philistines and they scolded him that he shouldn’t be out here defending Israel, but tending his sheep.
By the time of Jesus the shepherd was at the lowest level of society. What could be worse than a shepherd? Maybe mothers scolded their sons and said, “If you don’t do your homework that’s what you’ll become…a shepherd.
There was no such thing as a “Good Shepherd.” This is why the Jewish leaders stumbled over Jesus referring to himself as a shepherd…why would a Messiah be a shepherd. The Messiah should be a noble warrior and righteous great leader. And why would Jesus say, the people are like sheep and need a shepherd? Why didn’t he say, “The people are harassed and cast down and in need of an honoured priest.” Or, “The people are troubled and beat down and in need of a great leader”? No, he said, “They are like sheep and need a shepherd.”
What was it like to be a shepherd in their society? Let me compare it to today. If someone came to you on the street and asked, “Do you have any work for me?” You would immediately think of some dirty, boring, backbreaking task you didn’t want to do. So too with shepherds. In Jesus’ day shepherds were considered uneducated and not smart enough to do anything worthwhile in society. But Jesus said the people needed a shepherd.
If you were at in the parking lot at Bromleys Market and someone asked if you would like to buy a nice, new jacket with the price tag still on it for $10 you would suspect it was stolen. A shepherd in Jesus’ day was not to be trusted…if a shepherd appeared in the market selling lamb’s meat or sheep’s wool or a hide you knew to buy it because it was thought to be stolen property. But Jesus said the people needed a shepherd. If you were in a car accident and it was witnessed by a doctor and a homeless person…and the stories were different, you would choose the word of the doctor. So too in Jesus day. A shepherd was not allowed to testify in court because he was not considered intelligent enough to understand what was going on. But Jesus said the people needed a shepherd.
If you were standing along the Nooksack River and a nearby river bank gave way and a person you knew to be a wandering drunkard fell in you would try to rescue him…but not in Jesus’ day. The priests decreed that if a shepherd fell into a pit you were under no obligation to rescue him. But Jesus said the people needed a shepherd.
And today if a man has a non-essential job that keeps him from church we still make room for a pleasant chit-chat with him. But in Jesus’ day the shepherd had to work every day and could not attend temple…and therefore he was spiritually and ceremonially unclean. But Jesus said the people needed a shepherd.
There was nothing commendable to be a shepherd…yet Jesus said the people needed a shepherd…and in fact he was the shepherd.
In Hinduism the people worship their spiritual leaders…they do not try to live like them. The Buddhist tries to follow the philosophy of Buddha but he is too perfect to be able to follow in his steps. Nowhere is the Muslim told to live like Mohammad. But the Christian is told to live like Christ, and if Jesus said he was a shepherd to the people, then we too need to be shepherds to those we meet as well.
How can I be a shepherd to people? I have no training…I have no ministry…no position? That’s not important. Let’s look at what a shepherd did:
1. The shepherd had one job…to care for the sheep. It was a simple task that didn’t require shepherd tech school or a degree in “Sheep-ology”…they were there to protect and stand by the sheep. There are a lot of people who simply need us to give them a little protection and to stand by them through a crisis in life…maybe they have lost a loved one…maybe they are loosing their house to foreclosure…maybe they’ve lost an opportunity and have to start over. Maybe God is sending you to be a shepherd to them for a few days.
2. Shepherds were not high society. And so Jesus has called us to be humble, to throw off whatever status we have to serve someone. You know…no matter who a person is, even of they are well educated and well to do, your same education and position are useless. They need you…not your degrees and family pedigrees. When their business is in trouble and they can’t make it they may need a consultant but they also need you to say, “I’m here. I’ll be here.”
3. And shepherds stayed with the sheep in all kinds of weather. They had their little tents and shelters and watchtowers…but they were always there to be ready of there was a need. Jesus called us to be ready if there is a need. And no, I don’t mean monetary need. It is easy to get caught up in helping people in ways where it would be better if we didn’t. As the slogan says, “I don’t need a hand out…I need a hand up.” Be careful for people who are always asking for a hand out. Be brave enough to say, “No.” Money and things are here for a moment and then they are gone.
4. Shepherds were benefitted by the sheep. They received wool from them. Maybe when it was cold and the sheep were in a shelter, the shepherd was warmed by them.
The people we serve as shepherds have value for us. We learn from their life experiences as they have lost loved ones or struggled to find work. We share joys with them as tell us about their happy days. Sometimes as we walk through life with them they teach us practical things…knitting, gardening, auto repair, basic bookkeeping for example. Let them teach you. They want to give back to you what they can for you helping them. And if they offer you $5 for gas because you took them to the store, take it. It helps them feel better about themselves.
5. Shepherds stayed with the sheep through times that were tough for both of them. But when the sheep were hungry they didn’t go get the grass and lay it before them. He showed them new pasture. During the storms he didn’t put them in his shelter…he just stood by and talked to them to keep them calm.
As a shepherd we walk with people through their tough times…we stay with them…but we don’t do for them what they should be doing for themselves. We tell them who to call…but we don’t make the call. We tell them where to find proper help…but we don’t go get it for them. All of these things…this is what Jesus did. He stood by the people. He was there to defend them against the religious system that was so wrapped up in it’s petty rules it couldn’t serve people.
And He never let his position as the Son of God, or even as a rabbi, or even as a respected person get in the way of touching the leper. I read a quote my Mother Teresa, “No, I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand [British] pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God.” This dear lady could command an audience with almost any leader in the world yet she would touch the leper just to be able tell them of God’s love for them.
The need is there. Jesus said “Pray”…but don’t just pray when you yourself are the answer to the prayer! Listen, God needs good shepherds to tend to the people we meet…you be the shepherd…you be the labourer… just reach out and extend the love and compassion of our Lord.Bring comfort and care. Speak up for those who are helpless…those who have become shunned by society or friends…even their family.
Point people who genuinely want help toward help…notice I said “genuinely want help,” not the con artists and the game players. And in all things, do it in the name of the Lord. It may not be the right time to present Christ as Saviour…but they should see Christ through you.
Shepherds wanted. No special training necessary. No social level to belong to. No great resources needed. Just a willingness to serve people…whether or not they follow Christ. Go and serve in His name.