Summary: When scripture refers to people as sheep, it may not be a compliment. See how the good shepherd watches over us and cares for us even when our actions are senseless.
The Good Shepherd
March 30, 2014 Psalm 23
Rev. David J. Clark
Late in my first year of college, I was working on a Bible research paper about the 23rd Psalm. What is all of this shepherd imagery about? I learned about how the shepherd took care of the sheep and the green pastures meant that the sheep’s needs were always taken care of. Being led on the right paths means that if we follow God’s ways we are led away from the predators, such as the wolves of greed, envy, prejudice; the lions of fear that can destroy us from the inside. The rod and staff were ways of keeping the sheep in line and even the hook was used to save a sheep that got caught in the rocks. Shepherds led their flocks to high mesas called table rocks where they could look out for danger.
I learned that sheep are high maintenance creatures requiring constant evaluation for parasites and their wounds healed with oil. The Hebrew words for “follow me” at the end of the passage where it says, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” should be translated as something closer to “pursue” Surely, goodness and mercy shall pursue me like a predator to hunt me down. Will I allow God’s intentions of goodness for my life catch up to me or will I devise some means to sabotage the good that God has in store for me? After learning all this, I thought I had a good bead on the meaning of the psalm and how to apply it to everyday life.
I was just about ready to hit the print button on my paper when the phone rang. Someone at the college called saying I could earn some extra money shearing sheep. I explained that although I was from Iowa, I was a city kid, and, “I don’t know anything sheep shearing’. “It’s okay,” I was assured, “you will be working with a guy who has been shearing his whole life. He’ll teach you; just do what he says.”
Bright and early the next morning I showed up at the farm, and met Arthur. He was wearing bib overalls a seed corn cap and well-worn work boots--not nearly as fashionable as me in faded jeans; leather Nike tennis shoes, alligator/Izod polo shirt--with the hot 80’s look of an upturned collar and aviator sunglasses. He looked at me and just shook his head, as if he just realized he was going to have a very long and difficult day.
Basically, my job was to tackle the sheep. Arthur had a bad back so he needed me to round up the sheep and flip them on their backs. Now, I had always been under the impression that sheep were nice passive animals: cute, cuddly, noble creatures with an innate purity. It didn’t take long to figure out that my image was all wrong. During a Pepsi break, I shared with Arthur that I was coming to believe that when the Bible compares human beings to sheep, it isn’t exactly a compliment! Sheep are stupid. Arthur told me they could turn their head to look through a fence, and then not know to turn it back. They just sit there stuck and bleating away for help. Does the Bible mean to say that we are dumb—getting ourselves into awful fixes so we need a shepherd to help get us unstuck? Arthur just smiled.