When I was a young mission pastor I helped start a church which organized on Good Shepherd Sunday (this year April 18 or April 25 depending on which series you follow). We called the congregation “Good Shepherd Lutheran Church” and ever since then I have been a bit partial to both that name and to that Sunday. When we call the Lord Jesus our Good Shepherd we conjure up images of a shepherd both leading the sheep with his voice and carrying the sheep in his arms. Most importantly we are saying that he “laid down his life for the sheep.”
But the Epistle lesson for Good Shepherd Sunday this year calls Jesus the “Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” Some people don’t have a positive feeling about “bishops.” The word sometimes conjures up thoughts of oppressive clerics in weird outfits who push people around. But bishops aren’t all that bad if we look at the Bible word.
The Greek word for bishop is “episcope.” If you take the word apart you have the prefix “epi” which means “over or above” and “scope” which means look. So the word means “look from above” Actually it is the same as the word “Supervise” (Super = over and vize = look) which means look at from above. And it is the same as the word “oversee” which means exactly the same. Of course most of us have ambivalent feelings about overseers and supervisors. And we don’t want those same ambivalent feelings toward Jesus. But the dictionary gives us a more positive look at Jesus.
In the Bible dictionary the word “episcope” means to “see to it, to visit, to guard and to care for.” So the picture of Jesus is that he comes to us with his grace and because he is in charge you can depend on him to do this. He sees all of our needs including our greatest need of God’s love. He knows our need for someone to lay his life down for us. He visits with his redeptive atonement. His visit to us today is with a gentle voice and with special gifts. This voice and these gifts impart to us the love and favor of God. So they guard and protect us from sin and from any accusation. They are the Word and Sacraments.
Very often the words Shepherd and Overseer are put together in the Bible. They are very similar. Both the shepherd and the overseer (or bishop) see the sheep, love them, visit them in the sense that they come to them often with the word and speak to them of their loving God. So the word Bishop is just as nice a word in the Bible as is the word Shepherd.
I guess that means that we could rename this special Sunday from Good Shepherd Sunday to Good Bishop Sunday. Or not.