Summary: A perspective on Psalm 23 aided by a real-life shepherd.
Me? ... A Sheep!
April 29, 2007
Pastor Ben Patterson of Santa Monica, California shares the following story about his 5-year old niece, Olivia, who along with her best friend Claire were participating in a Christmas nativity play at school. Claire was playing Mary and Olivia was an angel. Before the show, Patterson says:
A young boy was going around the dressing room repeating, “I’m a sheep, what are you?” Each child responded politely, including Olivia, who proudly declared she was an angel. The boy then returned to Claire, still struggling into her costume with her mother’s help, and repeated the question: “I’m a sheep, what are you?”
Claire simply said, “I’m Mary.”
Realizing he was face to face with the lead character, he felt he needed to justify himself in his role. “Its hard being a sheep, you know,” the little boy said with all the seriousness of a five-year old actor with a big part.
Claire’s equally serious response was humorously profound. “Yes” said Claire innocently, “but it’s also hard being a virgin, you know.”
A few months ago, a friend of mine gave me the book (show book) “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”, by Phillip Keller who is an agrologist (which means he has spent years studying agriculture and land use), and also a former shepherd. He has many years of observing sheep first-hand, and even lived in East Africa for a time. He says, “Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is well nigh embarrassing.”
Traditionally, the fourth week of Easter is a week of meditating on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Today, we are going to get insights from two shepherds – from Keller, and from David, the shepherd boy who wrote Psalm 23, which is now one of the most famous works of poetry in all of history. In the process I think we’ll get a new perspective on what it means to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd”…
The words begin “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”… or “I shall not be in want.” What does that mean? Does it mean that we will never be lacking, that we will always be provided for – never wanting for anything? Yes, but further than that I think it also means literally what is says, in the shepherd’s care we shall not WANT – we are PERFECTLY CONTENT, satisfied with life, satisfied with what we have, and most of all satisfied in our Shepherd.
Contentedness is blessedness, (Hebrews “be content with what you have”, Paul “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”) but in this life it is hard to find contentment. It is difficult to be content when we are bombarded by images and slogans and advertisements that’s sole purpose is to try to get us to WANT something. (We can even cater to this in the church). We are naturally consumers and as a result are naturally never satisfied. No matter how much we get, or how much we gain, or how much we achieve, we are never satisfied – it is never enough. We always want more.
You know, some Christians can be described in this way – in spite of being perfectly blessed, and cared for, it is still not enough – they are not content. In his book, Keller says, “In spite of having such a master and owner, the fact remains that some Christians are still not satisfied with His control. They are somewhat dissatisfied, always feeling that the grass beyond the fence must be a little greener.”
Keller shares a story about a particular ewe (female sheep) who fit this kind of description. He called her “Mrs. Gad-about.” He said:
She was one of the most attractive sheep that ever belonged to me. Her body was beautifully proportioned. She had a strong build and an excellent coat of wool. Her head was clean, alert, well-set with bright eyes. She bore sturdy lambs that matured rapidly.
But in spite of all these attractive attributes she had one pronounced fault. She was restless – discontented – a fence crawler.
This one ewe produced more problems for me than almost all the rest of the flock combined.
No matter what field or pasture the sheep were in, she would search all along the fences or shoreline (we lived by the sea) looking for a loophole she could crawl through and start to feed on the other side.
It was not that she lacked pasturage. My fields were my joy and delight. No sheep in the district had better grazing. With “Mrs. Gad-about” it was an ingrained habit. She was simply never contented with things as they were. Often when she had forced her way through some such spot in a fence or found a way around the end of the wire at low tide on the beaches, she would end up feeding on bare, brown, burned-up pasturage of a most inferior sort.