I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
A post on a recent book led me to think of our Lord’s description of why he came. Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd who ultimately lays down his life for his sheep. God is likened to a shepherd to his people in the Old Testament, perhaps the ultimate, certainly must endearing passage being the beloved Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
David who according to the superscription either wrote the psalm, or it somehow is tied to him, knew firsthand what a good shepherd was like since he tended sheep as a boy, having some significant experience in doing so.
Scripture does liken people to sheep, an analogy which was meaningful to many people during Biblical times. Sheep are dependent, and given to self-destructive behavior, in short: rather dumb. They really need a shepherd, and when having a good one, they end up flourishing, taking for granted safety from would be predators, and enjoying green pastures.
While Psalm 23 adeptly focuses on the individual, which is of basic importance, passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel and our Lord’s words in John 10 focus on the flock. Humans are meant to flourish together. And as we especially see in the passages quoted above, it’s from the Lord that such abundant living takes place.
In this world there’s no way that life always seems good. There is many a pitfall, and sin diminishes the good that is to come out of a love that is meant to be for all. So Jesus’s words about laying down his life for the sheep figure in there. That ends up being necessary for the good of humanity and the world. And while such flourishing begins in this life, its complete fulfillment awaits the next life when heaven and earth become one at Christ’s return in the new creation
But make no mistake, Jesus’s promise of life to the full begins in the here and now. And that beginning is in itself both an indication as well as guarantee of what’s to come. Lived in all its variety of gifts from God in God’s love. In and through Jesus.