When Jesus proclaims Himself “The Good Shepherd”, He is tapping a deep well of Jewish theological identity. It was during the celebration of Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, that Jesus uttered these words. During this feast, texts from the OT were regularly read, texts decrying the “bad shepherds” or “false shepherds” that had led to Israel’s ruin time and time again. They spoke against the temple leaders who had given in to their oppressors rather than stand against them (and likely die). They spoke of those who had used their leadership for their own gain. They spoke of those who had failed Israel. Like today’s reading from Zechariah 9-12, they spoke of these failed leaders as “bad shepherds” who had sold or even eaten their own sheep rather than protect, care for, and feed them.
Into the middle of these public readings, Jesus stood and proclaimed that He was “The Good Shepherd” because He would lay down His life for His sheep. In opposition to the other leaders who would use their sheep for their own benefit, Jesus would give Himself to them for their benefit. Jesus proclaimed Himself “The Good Shepherd” and then went on to prove it time and time again.
Who is your shepherd? Who are you following? And no, the answer is never “nobody” or “myself”. We all follow someone. For our fashion choices, our political alliances, our news consumption, and our theological life, we all follow someone. Today, think about these leaders and compare them to Jesus. Are they “Good Shepherds” in the same way that Jesus was, willing to lay down their lives, careers, and reputations for your good? Or are they like the leaders of Jesus day, using you for their own ends?
Whatever your answers to these questions, none of your chosen leaders will compare with Jesus. So why not follow Him, the only shepherd who has proven Himself to be completely “for You” and lived to tell?