Read: 1 Peter 5:1-5 NRSV
Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
‘God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.’
We have our example of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who seeks out the desolate and cares for the oppressed. Now we, as the Church, are called to be shepherds also. We are the caretakers while the “chief shepherd” is away. How are we doing? Are we caring for others with eagerness or simply to gain a sense of righteousness? Are we clothed in humility?
The image of the church as the shepherd is important because, as the Bible constantly tells us, shepherds are not distinct or important or revered in any way. The fact that angels announced the birth of Christ to shepherds is noteworthy because they were the absolute last people one would expect to hear about the birth of the Messiah. It’s sort of like if the angels appeared to all the gas station attendants in Newark to let them know that the savior of the world had arrived.
Peter is warning the early Christians to remember their own lowliness by using the image of the shepherd. We are far enough removed from the days when sheepherding was a common profession to imbue the image with holiness and respectability, but when we consider ourselves as shepherds, we must remember that shepherds in Peter’s day were smelly outcasts who didn’t have much money and certainly weren’t considered holy or important.
It may be more helpful for us, as we dress up in our fine clothes and put on dignified faces, to remember that we are divine gas station attendants from Newark, following the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ.