Middle eastern cultures understood what shepherding was all about. It was about feeding the sheep, guiding them to good pasture lands, leading them to water, grooming and shearing them, delivering new lambs, teaching them to stay together while leading them, going after the wandering lost ones, and protecting the sheep at all times.
I once read a sermon about shepherds, which pointed out that if we follow the Good Shepherd, we automatically become “under shepherds”–we are shepherds in training. We need to emulate what the Good Shepherd does for the sheep, and then go out and do the same for others.
John 21:15-17 says:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep”.
There are many other aspects of this deep passage I could dwell on. For example, The Greeks had four words to describe what we call love, Eros, (romantic love), Phileo, (enjoyment, fondness, friendship), Storge (family loyalty) and Agape (unconditional love with stick-ability).
In this passage, the Lord’s use of the word love is “agape”—unconditional love. Peter’s use of the word love was “phileo”, or friendship, fondness love. The love that Peter referenced is very different from the love that Jesus was calling him (and us) to display. Peter loved Jesus; he had a close friendship with Jesus. But Peter, like us, had trouble with the stick-ability of unconditional love.
It is with agape love that the Good Shepherd loves us. It is with agape love that He wants us to love others.
Jesus wants us to see that everyone around us is a sheep. Remember all the descriptions of sheep from last week? They are sometimes stupid and stubborn. And yet, we are supposed to love them and feed them—provide for them, meet their needs, teach them about the Living Water and the Bread of Life—and we are supposed to love them not just with casual friendship, but also with unconditional agape love.
In Biblical days, people would not have had to study about shepherds. This was their culture. This was their livelihood. But we do need to study this because it makes it even more clear that Jesus is our good—no, our great—shepherd. He is the one and only. And He has made some promises to us that we can tap into. Promises to give us abundant life. Today, I challenge you to let that abundant life and abundant love from the Father overflow to others around you. Praying for you today!