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There’s a New Shepherd in Town

June 5, 2023

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9: 35-36)

Hopes run high in an organization when a new leader is chosen for the top position.  Employees and others associated with the organization are hopeful that the new leadership will bring a fresh spirit of cooperation, fairness, and productivity. They hope that the new leader will listen to them and open lines of communication, will understand their everyday challenges and difficulties, and will roll up his or her sleeves to work with them side by side for the good of all and the success of the organization.

In the midst of the failed religious Jewish leadership in Judea, an unlikely new leader appeared.  As he traveled the region visiting scores of small towns around the Sea of Galilee,[1] Jesus became the new Shepherd in town.  He saw firsthand how the entrenched religious leadership had failed the people: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9: 36). His primary missions were healing and teaching the lost and the helpless. 

 After training his closest followers, Jesus deputized a new set of shepherds.  He deputized the disciples to carry on the healing and teaching that he had done, authorizing them to seek the “lost sheep,” to heal them and to proclaim the good news: “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness . . . Those twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  As you go, proclaim this message: ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out the demons.” (Excerpts Matthew 10: 1-7). 

Jesus was the quintessential shepherd; he cared for those who were sick or afflicted by demons, and those who were sinners or outcasts.  He cared for the suffering, the disenfranchised, the despairing—in short, people like you and me, who don’t always act like believers. His new force of shepherds continued his work after he was crucified and resurrected.

But Jesus’ recruitment of new talent didn’t stop with his death.  During Saul’s murderous rampage against new believers after the Resurrection, Jesus approached Saul, the chief persecutor, and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  He deputized Saul to become the global spokesperson for the fledgling faith.[2]  After his two or three-year seminary training by the Holy Spirit in the Arabian desert, Saul, aka Paul, became the articulate Director of Communications who wrote many books and traveled throughout the ancient world spreading the good news.  

Paul combined his knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures and Greek literature with the revealed Word of God, to write a brilliant but succinct summary of faith in his epistle to the church in Rome.  The letter is a powerful explanation of the Christian faith. Though Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, he had not been to Rome at the time that he wrote Romans, in about 57 A. D.[3]  

The book of Romans is as timely today as it was to the first century Christians.  Paul wrote, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6).  Paul’s point is that we are all helpless and godless—and yet Jesus died for us. But what does that mean?  We know what helpless means, and most of us will probably agree that we cannot save ourselves, and in that respect, we are powerless to save ourselves.  But godless?  It seems to be a popular thing for folks to say, in our post-Christian society, that they are atheists or at least agnostic.  Being an atheist means not believing in God—or godless, and yet Paul wrote that Christ died for the godless.  This means that Christ loves the godless.  He loves those who do not know him as well as those of us who know him and call him Lord. But even in those of us who declare that Jesus is Lord, there is a part of each of us that continues to rebel against God.  We continue to wander from the path in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We are all sinners, and in that respect, we are all godless and powerless to save ourselves.  

In his great mercy, God has rescued unbelievers and complainers repeatedly.  The Old Testament reading reminds us how God rescued the Israelites in Egypt: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19: 4).  We are to praise and thank God for his faithfulness to mankind through the centuries: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

God has deputized you to be a shepherd in your town.  You can follow Jesus’ example and spread the Word to those you meet.  And the next time that someone tells you that he or she is an atheist, you can truthfully respond: “We are all godless.  We are all lost.   We have all fallen short and are powerless to help ourselves.  But God loves the godless, the lost, the powerless.  Jesus died for the godless, the lost, and the weak.  That means he loves both you and me.  Confess your lostness to him and ask him to rescue you.”  

And remember that it is not your place to judge another’s faith.   Your job is to share your faith.  Pray that the Spirit will nudge the person as only he can with his comforting, healing, and loving touch, and in doing so, reveal God’s truth to him or her. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise and thank you for sending your Son to be the new Shepherd in town, and for deputizing so many who left us with your Word. We know that we act as if we are godless at times. We do what we shouldn’t do and we don’t do what we should do. Forgive us.  Send your Spirit to heal, help, guide, and inspire each of us individually and as a nation in the coming weeks and months.  Help us to understand others and to work toward unity in our nations, our churches, homes, and workplaces. In your precious name we pray. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Jewish historian Josephus stated that there were 204 small towns in Galilee. 

[2] See Acts 9: 1-22.

[3] It is likely that others, such as Priscilla and Aquila, heard the Gospel elsewhere and brought it to Rome, where they started the Roman church.  These early Christians did not have the benefit of pew Bibles.  Paul’s epistle to them was probably the first piece of Christian literature that the church in Rome had seen.  It explained to them the key elements of faith and the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross and his Resurrection. 

 The circumstances surrounding Paul’s Roman citizenship are explained in Acts 22:27-28: “The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes I am,’ he answered.  Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied.”  Scholars surmise that because Paul’s birthplace, Tarsus, was designated a “free city” by Rome, he was a Roman citizen at birth, despite the fact that he was Jewish.  The commander, by contrast, purchased his citizenship, which was inferior to Paul’s birthright.