Thursday, February 25, 2010

'the good shepherd' in 3-D

Here's an example of how reading the New Testament in 3-D works practically.  Grab your Bible and turn to John 10.  This is a familiar passage where Jesus talks to the Pharisees about who He is using shepherding metaphors.  John tells us that Jesus spoke figuratively and that the Pharisees missed the point (10:6).  (Note: This is no surprise, because Jesus has just called them 'blind' (9:39-41) and made clear that He has taken up Isaiah's mission to blind the Jews.  Their inability to fully understand His words is what buys him enough time to make disciples.  When they eventually figure out what He is saying, they crucify Him.)

So let's try reading this passage using our 3-D glasses (explained more fully in the previous post).  Lens #1 - Jesus is the true Israel. First, we need to see how Jesus' announcement that He is the 'good shepherd' (John 10:11) relates to Israel.  Is there any history to this metaphor being used of Israel?  Yes!  Perhaps the best example is found in Ezekiel 34:

"'Son of Man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  ... You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd ..." (Eze 34:2-5)

The leaders of Israel had historically failed to shepherd God's flock under them.  In fact, in the preceeding story (John 9) the Jewish leaders showed a blatant lack of care for the blind man in their midst and treated him and his family harshly.  It's no wonder that Jesus launches into this metaphor!  It should be obvious by now that Jesus did well what Israel's leadership failed to do, that is, He cared for God's flock.  When he says He is the 'good shepherd' it is in contrast to the many bad shepherds who have successively destroyed the flock.  But that is only half of the picture.

Lens #2 - Jesus is Yahweh.  If we read on in Ezekiel 34 we find something remarkable.  Because of the complete failure of Israel's shepherds, Yahweh announces:

"I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. ... I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD.  I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak ..." (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

The expectation is that Yahweh Himself is the good shepherd who will come and care for His flock!  And Jesus has just demonstrated such care for the neglected blind man.  His announcement that He Himself was the good shepherd should have sent shock waves through the crowd.  To claim that He was the good shepherd was tantamount to claiming deity!  This is not the only relevant passage either.  Psalm 23 naturally contributed to the idea that the LORD is the true shepherd of Israel.

So we have two options.  We can read John 10 as a creative illustration made by a good teacher who tended to be a bit mysterious.  Or we can put on our 3-D glasses and read His words in light of their bold claims.  Jesus is establishing Himself as the true leader of Israel.  He is also indicating that He is Yahweh Himself, come to shepherd His flock.  It took the Jews a while, but they eventually figured out what He really meant, and tried to stone Him (John 10:31-33)!  Let's not be counted among those who miss the significance of His words.

To read more about the significance of the 'Shepherd' metaphor in Scripture, I highly recommend:
Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My own Heart: Pastoral traditions and leadership in the Bible (NSBT Vol 20; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006).

1 comment:

  1. Boom! I love this, Carmen! This is exactly how I taught John 10 when I was teaching the Genesis SS class a few years back. It's amazing how little the Church teaches God's people to read the NT in "3-D"...hopefully you'll be a key figure in helping to change that!