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A shepherd stands and looks out at his sheep in a green pasture

Jesus, the Good Shepherd lives among, loves with abandon, and walks alongside like no other. What can we learn from Jesus about sharing the love of Christ in our neighborhoods?

But you, Bethlehem, David’s country,
   the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader
   who will shepherd-rule Israel.
He’ll be no upstart, no pretender …

He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by GOD’s strength,
   centered in the majesty of GOD-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home,
   for the whole world will hold him in respect—
   Peacemaker of the world!
—Micah 5:2–4, MSG
 

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah,
for from you shall come a ruler
   who is to shepherd my people Israel.
—Matthew 2:6, NRSV

A Ruler Who Shepherds? A Shepherd Who Rules?

What comes to mind when you think of a ruler? Considering the “rulers” wielding power today, and those in Jesus’ day as well, a shepherd-ruler sounds like a contradiction. Yet, according to Old Testament writers (e.g., Psalm 78, 2 Samuel 5:2), a shepherd was the ideal king! And God’s rule was described as being that of a shepherd’s (e.g., Psalm 23, 80; Genesis 48:15, 49:24; Isaiah 40:10a–11).

Despite these accounts, few folks imagined or longed for a Shepherd Messiah-King. Given the political servitude and economic oppression at the time of Christ’s coming, they wanted a powerful warrior ruler who would come in triumph and conquer in might. Perhaps things haven’t changed much. But Jesus lies in a manger, innocent and vulnerable—his arrival more like a shepherd’s than an avenging king’s.

The Shepherd’s Way

But how does a shepherd rule, and what can we learn from this as neighbors sharing the love of Christ in our neighborhoods?

A shepherd does not control like a cowboy in an old Western. Ranchers constrain cattle from behind with prods and pokes. With whips and lassos, they steer their beasts, enforcing their will with fear and intimidation.

In contrast, shepherds assume a different posture among their flocks, as Jesus explains in John 10: 

  • They know their sheep by name (10:3, 4, 14). Jesus knows you and your neighbors by name.
  • They lead from among, so the sheep know and trust them.
  • Shepherds go ahead to make a way and be the way to green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23), carrying the vulnerable, seeking the lost ones, ensuring the flock is safe and provided for—like Jesus. He takes on our frailties.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd lives among, loves with abandon, and walks alongside like no other. Jesus is a “good neighbor.”

The incarnation reminds us (among other things) that God’s way among us humans is the Shepherd’s way. How might our way among our neighbors also be the Shepherd’s way? How might we hear his voice and deepen our trust in the Good Shepherd, who has gone ahead of us into our neighborhoods? How might we discover, anew or for the first time, green pastures and the good news of great joy that we just celebrated: Immanuel, God with us right where we are?

How can we respond?

  • Today, pay attention to your own responses, attitudes, and actions and those of others (on your street, at work, out in public, in the media). Are they more like a shepherd, or more like a cowboy? What do you learn as you reflect on your observations?
  • Ponder anew what it means for you that Jesus is your Good Shepherd. How might you be more like the Good Shepherd “leading” with presence, love, humility, and grace in your neighborhood? Try engaging with a neighbor in the Shepherd’s way today.

Karen Wilk is Resonate Global Mission’s Go Local Catalyzer. You can learn more about Go Local at www.resonateglobalmission.org/golocal