But we aren’t sheep and there’s not just one “wolf” who is out to get us. Our lives are complicated and demanding. A lone wolf would be a welcome treat — it would be great if we had only a single danger that threatens us.
as interpreted by Deborah
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
“When the hired hand (who isn’t the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep) sees the wolf, he runs away, abandoning the sheep. Then the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.
“The hired hand runs away because a hired hand doesn’t care about the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd. I know those who are mine, and they know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
“I have other sheep that aren’t in this pasture. I must lead them, too, and they will recognize my voice. Then there will be one flock with one shepherd.
“That’s why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life so I can take it up again.
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."
The good shepherd: one of the all-time favorite images of the Lord. Here is a gentle, caring Protector who will chase the wolves away and keep us safe from all harm: One whose voice is familiar; a Singer whose song our souls recognize.
The Shepherd is a wonderful combination of gentleness (to us sheep) and ferocity against the wolves who seek to kill us and chase us away from our peaceful little pasture. It is forever associated in our minds with the comfort and delight evoked by the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I shall not want: I need nothing. Everything is ok.
Just saying those words brings a sigh of relief, doesn’t it? In our mind’s eye we see fuzzy lambs grazing in a verdant meadow. Peaceful. Content. Care-free.
The problem is, we aren’t sheep and there’s not a “wolf” who is out to get us. Life in these days is much more complicated than the gentle times of first-century Palestine. A lone wolf would be a welcome treat — it would be great if we had only a single danger that threatens us.
For us to achieve the kind of tranquility Jesus speaks of, we don’t need a shepherd — we need a Superman. We need a Comforter who can reassure us, a Guide to lead us, a Time Manager, a Dietician, a Budget Manager, a Warrior who will protect us from terrorists abroad and the homegrown hoodlums that infest our neighborhoods — and our banking industry....
And our needs change on a daily — sometimes hourly — basis. Today we need a Medical Advisor who can tell us whether the newest version of the flu is a dire threat to our health, or just another “bug.” We need a Healer, a Sustainer, a Hope-Infuser, a Grace-Restorer.
We need a faithful friend. One who will never abandon us, never fail us — someone who would lay down his life for us.
Because this world is very confusing, and times are really tough.
Or is it really all that complicated?
Are our needs that much more sophisticated than those of people long-ago? Or has “modern” hubris muddled our thinking, causing us to believe that our lives are more challenging, our problems more complex, than any that have gone before?
In Jesus’ day the people lived without penicillin or police protection, there were no fire departments or emergency medical services. Crops might fail, an invading army could come through and commandeer their food, their household goods, conscript their young men and carry off the women and children, at the whim of the Roman governor their taxes could increase, their businesses be shut down, their work permits revoked. Hunger, disease, and pestilence were everyday realities, not occasional fears.
We are hugely mistaken if we think that early Christians would be any more likely to identify with contented, placid sheep than we are.
This is not to say that our lives are not difficult — for indeed they often are. But life has always been challenging, sometimes nearly beyond bearing, for people at all times and in all places.
And the Good Shepherd has always seen us through.
Rather than seek a more “sophisticated” answer to our complaints, perhaps we should look to the basic belief that has healed hearts and encouraged souls for millennia. A Superman who leaps tall buildings and stops locomotives in their tracks brings no help or comfort to those involved in the very human business of living.
We need a Good Shepherd who walks with us, taking no shortcuts, never running away, facing what we face, enduring what we endure — here in the midst of our world, in these times. We need someone who will be with us through good times and bad: when the pasture is green and verdant and when “the wolf is at the door.”
And that One is already here.
When we quiet our hearts and listen, we will recognize our Master’s voice, speaking words of reassurance and peace; stilling the troubled waters of our lives. We will hear the promise of forgiveness and compassion, of abundant blessings and unfailing mercy. It is the voice that proclaims: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” It is the promise that reveals that “we have all that we need.”
When we become a sheep of his pasture we will follow the Way that Jesus led. We will live with kindness and courage, confident that “in all things we are the Lord’s.”
The choice is ours: we can succumb to fear and anxiety — freaking out like a flock of sheep pursued by a wolf. Or we can trust in the Good Shepherd, believing that the Lord is with us always — and we will frolic like spring lambs.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Reread the Twenty-Third Psalm, imagining the comfort and peace the flock experiences. Ask the Good Shepherd to keep this blessed sense alive in your life each and every day.