He was a man from a small town. There was nothing exceptional about his family or his background. He was a rather ordinary student. He served his country during a time of war, and on returning home, he found it difficult to get established. He failed at several business ventures, he barely kept the family farm going, and he ended up in a local government post due to some influence that was used in his favor. He was elected to the Senate, but he was considered a cog in a political machine and so he didn’t get a lot of respect. At the time he came up for reelection, his political friends has been disgraced and he was considered a sure loser. He did win, and during the Second World War he exposed corruption in government contractors, and ended up succeeding President Roosevelt when he died. Harry Truman was considered a reject or an incompetent for much of his career, however, history has shown him to be more than that.
There are many stories of people who were considered rejects: the guy cut from his high school basketball team who became an all star; an actor who was the last considered for a role who ended up being the perfect person for the part; the band who couldn’t get a record contract who ended up being one of the most influential groups of all time. It’s something that happens a significant number of times, but is quickly forgotten about individuals in the wake of their success.
In the time of Jesus, shepherds were considered low class people. They were not allowed to come into town often; they were seen as dishonest, unreliable, self-centered, antisocial. They wandered up and down the barren hills of Judean in search of a little pasturage from water hole to water hole. Even though the great founding king of Israel, David, was a shepherd as a boy, shepherds were outsiders in that culture.
But Jesus changes the terms of common perception when he describes himself as the good shepherd. He connects himself with the tradition of the Kings by using that image associated with David, and he takes it over the top when he talks about giving his life for his sheep. As a tender of animals, they are an investment to be taken seriously, but for a shepherd to give his life for a sheep doesn’t make sense: after all, even if you lose them all, you can always get more sheep. The unselfish shepherd is a new concept for them, as it is for us.
Jesus gives us a model of unselfish leadership; Jesus gives us a model of ideal leadership. In ancient society, rulers looked at their subjects like sheep: resources to be used, but of small value as individuals. They were disposable in war, and their value lay in what the ruling class could get out of them. In a way, rulers of ancient times were shepherd in the conventional sense: they lived off of the flocks. Jesus is the shepherd that gives his flock life.
As we come to this season of the year, we are called to see how we are called to live together in community. We are called to follow the model of Christ in how we deal with one another. We are called to give our lives for one another. We are called to see people as Christ sees them.
God sees us all as building stones; God rejects none of us. God uses us to build upon, even when we don’t feel as though we are reliable for anything. Like a mother, God loves us unconditionally, a love that we can count on when everything else goes wrong. In Christ, God loves us to death and beyond death to new life; God leads us to be the best people we are meant to be.