Good Shepherd, Lamb of God by Elder Gong
Today we’re going to focus on one particular title or metaphor for Jesus: What are some names of Jesus?
(Alpha and Omega. Lamb of God. Emmanuel. Bread of Life. Prince of Peace. Redeemer. Good Shepherd, Christ, Lord, Master, Logos (Word), Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David, New Adam, Light of the World, King of the Jews, Rabbi, Savior, etc.)
We all relate to Jesus differently, and different titles are going to appeal more to different people. Which are your favorite and why?
Today we’ll be focusing on one of those names — Good Shepherd.
II. JESUS AS A GOOD SHEPHERD
Elder Gong says:
We learn much from our Savior’s references to Himself as the Good Shepherd …. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ calls us in His voice and His name. He seeks and gathers us. He teaches us how to minister in love. … As we seek with real intent to follow Jesus Christ, inspiration comes to do good, to love God, and to serve him.
I was interested in the fact that Jesus chose to refer to himself as the good shepherd. I was looking into this reference and discovered that many scholars believe that in Jesus’s day, shepherds were largely a despised class, uneducated, lowly, and unable to keep purity laws of the time.
The Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law (3rd cent bc), reflects this prejudice and describes them as “incompetent”; another says no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit.
A scholar named Joachim Jeremias documents the fact that shepherds were deprived of all civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses. He wrote, “To buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.”
In Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, Jeremias notes: “The rabbis ask with amazement how, in view of the despicable nature of shepherds, one can explain why God was called ‘my shepherd’ in Psalm 23:1.”
(This historical information taken from this blog).
Are you surprised that Jesus explicitly called himself a shepherd, given this reputation in dominant Jewish society at this time? How does this complement other choices he made during his mortal ministry?
I think it fits perfectly. This was a man who was pushing against the dominant focus on purity and instead saying ,no, focus on compassion. At this time, according to Marcus Borg, the dominant paradigm was “Be thou holy as God is holy.” Jesus advocates a different paradigm: “Be thou compassionate as God is compassionate.” So it makes sense to me that he would identify himself with a marginal, “impure” class. Part of his overall vision to push against boundaries that kept people ranked and separated. He’s identifying with the least of these.
So how is Jesus a good shepherd? Elder Gong states
As the “Shepherd of Israel,”Jesus Christ exemplifies how shepherds in Israel minister in love. When our Lord asks if we love Him, as He did with Simon Peter, our Savior implores: “Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep. … Feed my sheep.” The Lord promises that when His shepherds feed His lambs and sheep, those in His fold “shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking.”
Our Good Shepherd cautions that shepherds in Israel must not slumber,nor scatter or cause the sheep to go astray, nor look our own way for our own gain.God’s shepherds are to strengthen, heal, bind up that which is broken, bring again that which was driven away, seek that which was lost.
III. BEING A GOOD SHEPHERD
These quotes about binding up the broken, bringing back that which is lost, reminded me of two stories. I want to get your reaction to them. The first story is one Elder Gong mentioned:
A dear friend shared how she gained her precious testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She grew up believing sin always brought great punishment, borne by us alone. She pleaded to God to understand the possibility of divine forgiveness. She prayed to understand and know how Jesus Christ can forgive those who repent, how mercy can satisfy justice.
One day her prayer was answered in a spiritually transforming experience. A desperate young man came running out of a grocery store carrying two bags of stolen food. He ran into a busy street, chased by the store manager, who caught him and began yelling and fighting. Instead of feeling judgment for the frightened young man as a thief, my friend was unexpectedly filled with great compassion for him. Without fear or concern for her own safety, she walked straight up to the two quarreling men. She found herself saying, “I will pay for the food. Please let him go. Please let me pay for the food.”
Prompted by the Holy Ghost and filled with a love she had never felt before, my friend said, “All I wanted to do was to help and save the young man.” My friend said she began to understand Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
This for me is a story of Jesus leading us down unexpected paths. This woman never imagined doing this. Never thought of inserting herself in brawl. I don’t like conflict, so I probably would have just hung back and looked desperately around for someone else to break up the fight. But she felt God/Jesus taking hold of her heart and leading her to this very unexpected act of kindness and love. And in that moment came to understand the atonement so much better. A great example of being a shepherd to someone who needed help and healing.
When has Jesus led you down an unexpected path? When has Jesus led you to do something brave, something kind, something outside your comfort zone, something that led you to take an unexpected position or reach an unexpected conclusion? Have you been the recipient of this kind of act?
What are the most important experiences you’ve had with shepherding? Or being shepherded? Challenges, successes? Moments when you’ve felt your heart and mind expand?
If you’ve gone after lost sheep, have they responded well to your overtures? What’s your philosophy about reaching out towards those that are on a starkly different path than you are on?
How have you balanced the mandate to reach out and include everyone — the broken and the lost — with the need and desire to have a safe community?
IV. OUR OWN MINISTRIES?
Elder Gong states:
We covenant to follow Him, not passively, blindly, or “sheepishly,” but instead desiring with all our hearts and minds to love God and our neighbor, bearing one another’s burdens and rejoicing in one another’s joys…. We gladly seek to join His work of gathering and ministering to all of God’s children.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of ministering, and it occurs to me that while the big vision should be to minister to everyone, in reality we may find ourselves called to use our specific talents and experiences to particularly minister to a certain group of people. In other words, we each have our own ministries.
I’m thinking of a friend who has an autistic son and has done a lot of work connecting together LDS families with autistic kids, coming up with guides and suggestions for Primary leaders when autistic kids are in the room, etc. That’s her ministry.
I think of another friend who has done amazing work connecting to LGBTQ Mormons and their families, and she composed a beautiful LGBTQ ministering guide. This is her ministry.
I know another woman whose ministry was to single women in the church, another woman whose ministry has been to the vulnerable and indigent in our community.
What is your ministry? What would you like it to be? Is there power for you in thinking that you might have a particular ministry or do you prefer a more general approach to the concept of ministering.
As I’ve been thinking about Jesus and shepherding and ministering, it’s occurred to me that Jesus shepherds us and ministers to us in different ways. And we come to and respond to Jesus in different ways. But what seems to me to undergird so many people’s admiration for Jesus and his message is that that root call of Jesus:
- to love one another,
- to show boundless compassion,
- to let God lead us in surprising directions,
- to be our biggest and bravest selves
- to imagine radical change in ourselves and the world
This has been a powerful message for billions of people throughout the world and its history. I’m grateful for Elder Gong’s reflections of Jesus as shepherd and I’m grateful to you for your stories and wisdom.
This lesson plan was adapted from Relief Society Lesson: Good Shepherd, Lamb of God, originally published September 9, 2019.