“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1
We don’t see many shepherds here in the United States, at least not in New England! So to hear that God/Jesus is the shepherd who guides us, loves us, walks with us, protects us, cares for us, etc. needs some shepherding image to help us understand the impact of that kind of nurturing.
One of the most obvious shepherding images is with our parents, as long as they have been good parents and not abusive, unloving, or absent. Parents who love their children in healthy ways are willing to give their life for their child and try to protect that child from anything or anyone who might harm him or her. Good parents do the very best they can for their children, including disciplining them, teaching them right from wrong, listening to them, providing for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We have to concede that, as human beings, our parents – all of them – made mistakes or didn’t “do the job” perfectly. But then, they ARE human, and the DID try.
The only perfect shepherd is God. Of course, there are many who might disagree with me because their experience of God has been less than wonderful. So many want proof in some “Harry Potter magic” type of way, but the image of God as a shepherd is earthy, tangible, and of the common things of our world. That is where we need to look for God.
Another image of the shepherd is pastors, teachers, and leaders in the church. Obviously, they also are human beings with their own flaws and foibles, and many have seriously damaged the emotional and spiritual state of others. Too often, ego gets in the way, and power struggles catch innocent bystanders who are just trying to be faithful in the crossfire. Jesus as the good shepherd provides us with a confident, yet humble attitude where the well-being of the flock is what is most important.
In the John passage, it is clear that there is a strong bond and loving connection between the shepherd and the sheep. In a church, the same kind of bonding can happen when the leader is confident in his or her relationship with God, humble enough to point to God (not self), and loving toward their congregation members. When the welfare of the congregation and their spiritual health is a priority, good things happen, and God is clearly visible and at work through the ministry of that church.
It’s an interesting reflection! When we claim, “The Lord is my shepherd” are we willing to follow? Are we willing to listen? Are we willing to take direction and guidance? The Shepherd knows what is best for us and has our best interests at heart. The Shepherd knows us by name, loves us enough to die for us. What a wonderful Savior we have in the Good Shepherd! Amen? Amen!