He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd. Jeremiah 31:10 (NIV)
Jesus prayed, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. John 17:20-21
Scattered people, separated from each other and from where they should be. Just like sheep can go astray and wander off so can we. Things had gotten so bad that, as Jeremiah relates, God had actually scattered Israel. Imagine sheep just scattered – they don’t do well without the rest of the flock around. They need a shepherd to lead them to safe sources of food and water. They need protection. A good shepherd keeps track of the sheep, and keeps them together.
When herding sheep they become unhappy if separated. It is fun and interesting to watch a good sheepdog cut a few sheep out of the flock and move them as needed. The sheep want to be together but there is that persistent dog. Soon, after the shearing or other procedure like hoof trimming, they get to go back with the group. If a flock were scattered by a storm the shepherd would gather them together and watch over them again.
Jeremiah uses this image of a loving God. After the people were scattered and in exile there is now a prediction of the future, where God will gather the people back together, as one. With a promise of a caring, loving shepherd to watch over them. God cares for all of His people.
Jesus doesn’t want to have just a small group – say the disciples – as a little clique or sect that believes in Him. Rather, Jesus wants everyone to be included. Wonder what God thinks about all the variety of denominations and sects that we humans have developed. Such nasty interactions have occurred as people are scattered among various interpretations of God’s word. As presented by Jesus, it seems much more simple. He prays for all those who believe in Him. Those believers he is addressing, those they will talk to, and generations to follow who have listened and follow. All of us can share the Good News and all of us need God’s grace.
Loving shepherd, thank you that we have heard the word of your witnesses. Thank you for praying for us too. Your will is that we might be one, without factions or divisions. Thank you Jesus for gathering us together “as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Bless all who hear and believe. Let your word go out through us to others that they too may believe. In Jesus’ name, Amen.