The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
This week’s theme, “Go Like the Shepherds” places us in the role of the shepherds. Let’s change gears for today and put ourselves in the role of the sheep. The sheep are not the smartest of animals. They traveled in large flocks. Left to their own devices, they would scatter, perhaps become isolated from the flock, be at risk of being attacked by wolves, and would not know where they were going. The shepherds made sure that the sheep were safe, stayed as a group, and got to pastures where there was food to eat. In order to do this, the shepherds used a staff to keep the sheep in line. It was a very regimented system, and it had to be, because the sheep were in constant danger and didn’t have the rational capacity to contemplate danger or protect themselves.
The Bible refers to Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), which will be the topic of tomorrow’s reflections. The theology of the church refers to us as “rational” sheep. We are rational in the sense that we do not need to be cajoled or beaten into obedience, as the sheep often were in their large flocks. We can sense danger, we can protect ourselves, and we can choose to follow Jesus which is a rational choice.
Even though we are rational sheep, we still need guidance. We need to understand our destination and how to safely get there. The world tells us that the destination is material riches, and there really is no safe way to get there. To get to the top you have to come out better than everyone else, so life is a constant competition. Our son is a junior in high school and we are starting to think about college. There is this pressure to get into the college with the best name, rather than just get into a college that will provide a good education. Why is the name important? Because it leads to the job, which leads to the paycheck, which leads to the material riches, which ultimately leads where—the same death that the poorest person suffers. We all meet the same physical ending.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tell us that the destination is eternal life, and the safest way to get there is to love others, to serve others, to repent for personal failings, to develop a relationship with Jesus, and to let Him be our guide and shepherd to the green pastures and still waters not only of heaven, but of this life as well. Colleges may promise good paying jobs, social media may extol the latest trends in cars, clothes or all manner of material things. But these ultimately end in emptiness. A person who is dying I guarantee is not concerned about their job or their material goods, only about their eternal destination.
We know that shepherds had to constantly circle around their sheep to protect and guide them. We know that predators were a constant threat to the sheep. We know that sheep that got separated from the flock were easy targets for prey. So, if we put ourselves in the flock of sheep, where are we? Is Jesus our shepherd and guide? What is circling around us—Jesus, or worldly things? Have we separated ourselves from the flock? Are we endanger of being preyed upon?
There is some very good news. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will leave an entire flock to go looking for a lost sheep. If you are that lost sheep, all you have to do is cry out to Jesus. In the fields, a shepherd might not go and look for one lost sheep, for fear of the other ninety-nine scattering or being threatened. That’s because a human being has limitations for what he or she can do. With God, nothing is impossible. Even if several sheep are lost, Jesus can keep the flock together while going and searching for the lost sheep.
Let’s put ourselves back in the position of the shepherd for a moment. Each of us has a small flock—maybe a small family, or a small crew at work, or a small group of friends. Maybe you are a coach of a sports team and have a flock of 15 baseball players, or maybe even a large flock of 100 football players. Whatever “flock” you have, you also have to think like a shepherd—to lead the flock, protect the flock from harm, and constantly be engaged with the flock. We all take on the role of the sheep when it comes to being a Christian or part of a group. We all take on the role of the shepherd each time we are entrusted with leadership. However, we should see ourselves first as part of the Christian flock, and should see Jesus always as our shepherd.
Since the Lord Jesus was born of the holy Virgin, the universe has been illumined. Shepherds were keeping watch, and Magi were adoring Him, and Angels were singing praises, and Herod was troubled; for God appeared in the flesh, yes, the Savior of our souls. (Kekgragaria, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Describe in five words how the Lord can be your shepherd.