[Excerpted from last Sunday’s message at The District Church: “Pastors”]
The life of a shepherd in the Middle East was not—is not—an easy one. In biblical times, a shepherd’s job description included:
- Finding water and grass in a dry and stony region;
- Keeping the sheep safe from the elements, from predators, and even from themselves, as they were prone to stray and potentially get hurt;
- Caring for the ones that did get hurt or sick; and
- Occasional long periods of separation from human contact, with only sheep for company.
Not being a shepherd or sheep farmer myself, I thought I’d do a little research on what that’d be like—to have sheep for company, so I googled “sheep characteristics.” Here are some of the results:
- Timid, fearful, easily panicked
- Very vulnerable to frustration, pests, hunger
- Constantly need to be fed, but not very discerning in choosing good food
- Frequently look for the easiest places to rest rather than the best
- Need the most care and attention of all livestock
God is often described as the Shepherd of his people Israel, and in today’s passage, Jesus refers to himself as “the good shepherd”—and it’s pretty clear why when we look at this list! This is us, isn’t it? Isn’t this how we are? “Timid, fearful, vulnerable to frustration, not very discerning in choosing what’s good for us, frequently looking for what’s easiest rather than what’s best for us, needing a lot of care and attention”?
And yet whatever sheep characteristic we may exhibiting in our lives right now, we can rest assured that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we can pray Psalm 23 with confidence:
Yahweh 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.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.