One of Jesus’ most poignant teachings, to my mind, is his discourse to the apostles shortly before his death concerning himself as the Good Shepherd. Here the Savior opens his heart, expressing his devotion to the Father’s will, his tender love for those whom the Father has given him (also described as those who hear his voice and follow him–Jesus can affirm divine sovereignty and human responsibility at the same time) and his passion for the spiritual oneness between the Father, himself and all his people that is at least one goal of all the above.
In the course of these reflections, the Savior says: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” He is speaking, first of all, of that countless number who belong to him, not from Israel, but from among the nations. The goyim as the Jews called them, ta ethna in Greek, or, to use the familiar phrase, “the Gentiles.” Almost a dismissive term to the Jews, whom God has privileged to be his special instruments in the outworking of his saving purpose, but to God a reminder of his covenant promise to Abraham and those whom his choice of the Jews as a special people was always intended to bless. “One flock, one shepherd.” Such a beautiful goal, but how utterly counter-intuitive to the exclusivistic and self-centered tendencies of fallen humankind!
I think it does no injustice to our Lord to imagine him expressing the same goal today. Not only of Jews and Gentiles, but also of all the Christian “tribes” into which sinful inclinations, legitimate expediences and the meandering circumstances of church history have divided those who hear Jesus’ voice and follow him today. How content we are to be with our “own kind,” as if we alone had anything worthwhile to offer. How easily we ignore all of Jesus’ other sheep who are not in our particular tribe. Yet how much we deprive ourselves by such narrow-minded and short-sighted thinking! How much richer a life awaits those who can enlarge their vision to see, with Jesus, one fold and one shepherd! What blessings God has given to all his people! The Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and via media Catholic/Protestant Anglicans can share a sense of historicity, a priceless liturgical tradition, an ancient Apostles Creed and a biblical canon available in a common tongue.
The magisterial heritage of the Lutherans and Reformed preserve an emphasis on a Sovereign God, a salvation all of grace, a Christ-centered gospel. Baptist churches (and there are many kinds) emphasize personal faith and decision, Wesleyans remind us to translate that into holy and productive living and Christians sometimes described as Pentecostal/charismatic/Third Wave tell us that it all happens though the gifting and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Adventists (both first- and seventh-day) preserve the truth of our own mortality and total dependence on God for life itself. The Campbell-Stone “restoration” movement and many others like it, make us aware that with time the stream of Christian life and practice gets muddied and we need always to compare it to the source. Let us tear down walls that divide God’s people and ignore the walls until that happens. Let us learn from each other and share with the whole family of faith what God has entrusted to us all. And let us remember that regardless of how it appears to us at the moment, in the pure light of the Father’s plan and the merit of the Savior’s work, even now there really is “one flock, one shepherd.”