The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His name’s sake.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
I was raised on a farm and learned more about sheep, cows, and horses between the ages of six and eighteen than I have ever learned for the rest of my life. Our world today generally has moved away from the farm and animal life except for our house pets. So when we read Psalm 23 or Jesus words in John’s gospel today it cannot be as relatable to us as it was to David and the Israelites in the Old Testament period of history or in Jesus’ day, 2000 plus years ago. But although the imagery may seem outdated, have we in the modern world really outgrown our need for someone to love us fiercely and forever the way only a truly good shepherd can?
In our quiet and secret moments, in moments of fear and anxiety, we yearn for someone stronger and wiser to take care of us. Deep down inside of us we may carry around the memory of how comforting it was to be tucked into our cozy beds at night without worries of someone taking our life or our family away from us before the morning dawns. Kids go to bed without fretting about whether the forecasted heavy weather will become violent, or whether the bills can be paid, or whether some IRS agent might think that one of our tax deductions is a bit too creative. No, as children we tossed drowsily in our beds knowing that someone else was in charge and so we could slip off into dreamland, with no cares to crowd our minds so we could not sleep.
We adults carry that memory in our sub-conscious and we yearn for something like it again because we know what it was like. Today we know what it’s like to wait for results from the pathology lab. Now we know what it’s like to watch a deadly storm roar closer and closer to our homes. Maybe we’ve gone through the pain of having to say our final goodbyes to grandparents or our parents and friends. Perhaps we have lost our jobs and we are having to search for work in order to feed our families. How good it would be to know that everything is going to be okay.
All the cares and concerns of our world today says that we still need a good shepherd, someone who cares and tends to our cares like a shepherd does with his flock of sheep. Our need for a shepherd has not really faded just because our familiarity with sheep and shepherds is not as real as it was for the people who first heard these words spoken by Jesus? We still live in a dangerous world with wolves all around us. We will never experience a time when we will not need someone who will care for us no matter what. But however we choose to update the shepherd imagery, we cannot deny that today as much as ever, we need someone who can see every danger that comes our way and who will get killed himself rather than abandon any one of us sheep. We need a shepherd.
How does your image of Jesus as a good shepherd help you deal with your worries and concerns of life?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.