You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
In grass meadows He makes me lie down, by quiet waters guides me.
My life He brings back. He leads me on pathways of justice for His name’s sake.
Though I walk in the vale of death’s shadow, I fear no harm, for You are with me.
Your rod and staff – it is they that console me.
You set out a table before me in the face of my foes.
You moisten my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Let but goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long days.
(Ps 23 – translation by R. Alter)
Jesus said again, “I tell you.. I am the gate for the sheep… whoever enters through me will be saved…. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep”
These are among the most beloved passages of our scriptures, speaking eloquently of the tenderness and care of our God for those whom he calls his ‘flock’. The picture of a shepherd with his sheep was of course very familiar to Jesus’ audience and to the pastoral people for whom David wrote psalms and to whom Isaiah spoke his prophecies. The image was ripe for teaching truths – both about the foolishness of the sheep (us!) and their need for diligent and sometimes sacrificial guarding ; and also about the characteristics of true or good, shepherds. Sometimes it was ‘false’ shepherds who were condemned by the prophets for failing to act as God called them to – those in leadership in Israel who knew the word of God and yet exposed the people to all kinds of dangers through laziness, bad example and outright false teaching.
As with other roles in the Old Testament – king, judge, husband – we come to realise that these are ways of understanding how our God wants us to understand who He is, and what our relationship is with him. He is the sum of the ideal parts of all these roles, and even the best human examples fall far short of his perfection. So it is with the shepherd and his flock.
Today then, let us remember who our Shepherd is, and what it means to be one of his sheep.
The One who stands guard over us is vigilant and strong; he has demonstrated his commitment to us and our safety by dying that we might live. His victory over our ultimate enemy has already been secured, and we have been rescued from a cruel and greedy master into the care of a loving, generous, and faithful shepherd.
He carries the weak and small close to his heart, the road is too rough for them; he takes the flock by paths which will not tax them beyond their capacity, since he knows just how each one is burdened; he makes sure there are places where we may be refreshed on each stage of the journey.
The One who tends us also goes with us, he has made his dwelling among us and chooses to know and be known by us intimately, so that we might have no fear of abandonment even when the path is overshadowed and we cannot see the way.
O Lord, our shepherd, we thank and praise you today for this rich picture of your care for us, and all the ways that you apply it to our hearts and to our hurts. We worship you, our faithful, death-defeating and life-giving shepherd and pray for wisdom to know your voice more clearly, and for the simple trust which enables us to rest in you even in the midst of trouble.