I have always been taken with the phrase “a man’s man.” There’s something about the word repetition that makes it catchy, though its meaning confused me for awhile. “A man’s man” seems to be a man who fulfills some people’s basic stereotypes of masculinity: likes hunting and fast cars, loves deep sea fishing and most nautical endeavors. In short, a man’s man is a strong and preferably bearded type who’s got impressive survival skills. A kind of MacGyver-Robinson Crusoe hybrid. I take umbrage with this definition, as my hope is that a man’s man could be someone who exemplifies some of the very important yet uncelebrated qualities of good men: compassion, generosity, speaking up for vulnerable people, giving credit instead of taking it.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:8-10, KJV)
In these verses we see that Jesus’ birth is first announced to shepherds, which seems fitting because he would come to describe himself throughout his ministry as a shepherd. The shepherds in this passage need direction and protection, as sheep often do, and they are being led to the baby who was in fact their shepherd. Jesus might have been a man’s man in the popular sense, though he preferred fast chariots to fast cars. He was certainly a man’s man in the way I like to think about the phrase. But the fact that the shepherds attended the birth of the great shepherd invites us to think about Jesus as a shepherd’s shepherd.
In John 10, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:11, 14). The Gospel author Matthew writes, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The culture that Jesus was born into was a shepherding culture, and the Bible is full of references to shepherds in both the Old and New Testaments. But in our 21st century, technology-infused lives, it’s hard to fully grasp what caring for sheep entails. We like the imagery of fuzzy lambs, but beyond that, it’s necessary to extrapolate how our roles today are like that of the shepherds abiding in the field on that holy night long ago.
Even without spending time in fields, so many of us are shepherds, and we need a shepherd’s shepherd to guide us as we guide others. We may, for example, care for children who need shaping, teaching, and security. A few years ago a friend of mine who is a father of six mused on Facebook: “I just realized that part of my life was spent prepping for the other part, and the other part will be spent prepping others.” He was shepherded by his parents, pastors, and teachers, who prepared him to shepherd and prepare others.
Where are you a shepherd, and how can you more fully lean on Jesus, the shepherd’s shepherd? The most obvious answer to this question is if you are a parent, though there are many other ways to shepherd, shape, and serve. Like my friend, I never realized until I had children that I was being shaped into someone who would shape others. Shepherding these children is a daunting and difficult task, and I am often sore afraid. After all, I need only turn to the book of Jeremiah for one of many Biblical warnings against being a bad shepherd: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:1)
As I keep watch over my own flock, I am so thankful that there is good news of great joy, that the shepherd’s shepherd has been born.