Jesus lived in, taught, and ministered to an agricultural society. In his lifetime, the greater majority of the Israelites in Palestine were poor. The small middle class was composed primarily of craftsmen and merchants. The wealthy were even smaller in number. Society directly depended on agriculture. The poor depended on the land to survive. If agriculture failed, the middle class had few customers. Agricultural failure immediately, directly impacted the wealthy.
Four basic agricultural factors made a year "good" or "bad" economically. They were (a) the grain crops [was there enough grain to produce adequate bread]; (b) the olive crop [olive oil was basic in daily existence]; (c) the vineyards [could the grapes produce adequate, quality wine], and (d) the birth rate and survival of lambs [a family's prosperity was measured by the size of their flock].
The shepherd served an essential role in the family's prosperity and society's well being. He led the sheep to adequate grazing. He led the sheep to adequate water. He protected the sheep from predators. He gave special care to weak or sick sheep. He gave special attention to the ewes as lambs were born. He recovered lost sheep.
His whole existence focused on the welfare of the sheep. He served the sheep. Their well being was all important day and night every day. He was a servant, but he was unique. Proper care of the flock involved much more than caring for a job responsibly.
A sheepfold was an enclosure [often small] with one entrance. A sheepfold allowed the shepherd to protect his flock better at night. By stationing himself at its entrance, he placed himself between dangers and the sheep. Because he led his flock through open country searching for grass and water, a sheepfold might not be available every night.
On occasions it was necessary for the shepherd to leave his flock for the night. A flock could stay in a large sheepfold with several flocks. A keeper tended/guarded the flocks placed in his care while their shepherds were gone for the night. If a shepherd must be away for more than the night, someone was hired to take the sheep to graze and drink. The hired person did a job. The shepherd cared about his sheep.
Some basic lessons Jesus revealed about the nature and quality of his service are not obvious to many American Christians. Most of us live in a city. Our society is basically an urban society. The number of sheep we own does not determine our economic status. We have little knowledge of the life and work of a shepherd. Things clearly obvious to Jesus' audience are not obvious to us.
Read John 10:1-6, 11-18.
Note these facts that Jesus emphasized:
The obvious: Jesus wanted those he taught to understand (a) the nature and quality of his commitment to any person who followed him and (b) his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice to save those who followed him.
The following questions are for thought and discussion.
How many of these things could be true if Jesus had not been the shepherd servant?
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 11
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