Friday, April 27, 2012

Good Shepherds

Each week, our youth Sunday School class explores a topic through scriptural reflection. We review the context for each of the passages and then read them in more than one translation. Then we "wonder" (a word from our Godly Play curriculum that implies free exploration rather than rigid instruction) about the topic and the passages using some pre-selected "wondering questions" (like: "how do these passages remind us of something in our world today?). Or class members can just make their own comments. The idea is to see connections between the passages and with our own lives, to hear scripture as a conversation across the ages to today. Here are some notes composed by our clergy that our adult leaders will work from this week. All youth in grades 6-12 are welcome to join us from 9:20-10:15 in the Gray Building youth room. We often have donuts (because nothing helps us wonder about the Bible better than donuts!).

Youth Sunday School April 29, 2012

Topic: Leadership

Passages: John 10:7-16   Ezekiel 34:1-16  Psalm 23  Matthew 20:25-28
St. Luke's Vestry: "good shepherds" and servant leaders of our parish
The 4th Sunday after Easter is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” because there are so many references to shepherds. The most famous is Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd. In the ancient near East, the lands and times of the Biblical writers, the image of the shepherd was connected with the image of political rulers. Good rulers/leaders took care of their people the way a good shepherd cared for the sheep. In the Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus refers to himself as “the good shepherd.” He is making reference to some Old Testament passages, including the passage from Ezekiel 34, in which the prophets preach against the rulers of Israel as bad shepherds. Ezekiel, in particular, was a prophet as well as a priest during the time of the Babylonian exile (middle of the 500’s BCE). The “shepherds” he was preaching against were likely the political rulers of the exiles who were prospering while most of the people were suffering. Even though the Babylonians had conquered, they relied on the Israelite leaders to keep order among the exiles, and these leaders used what little power they had for their own benefit. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus is also making reference to some bad shepherds. In his case, he is likely talking about the Jewish leaders who care more for their own reputation than they do for their people. The Gospel of John was written about 50-60 years after Jesus. The Romans had destroyed the Temple, the center of Jewish worship, in Jerusalem in 70 CE. The Jewish Christians were excluded from worship in the synagogues (the center of worship after the Temple fell), and so John’s inclusion of this speech by Jesus about being the good shepherd is probably also a comment against the Jewish leaders after Jesus’ time as well. The Gospel passage from Matthew is a famous text about the importance of “servant leadership.” A good leader serves others. When we serve others they are also more likely to be loyal followers. Jesus is speaking to his disciples who are upset, because some of their number are already trying to figure out who will be in charge if Jesus leaves (as he keeps warning them that he will). Jesus reminds them what kind of leadership he has come to show us: leadership that loves.

How do these passages remind of leaders today? Who are good shepherds in our world? Think about the leaders you encounter at home, school, or work. Think about the leaders of our community, the state, the nation, the world. Who are the leaders who take care of and serve others? Who are the leaders who seem to care more for their own welfare? Where do each of us have opportunities in our own lives to be “servant leaders?”

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