The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Besides restful waters he leads me;
Jesus refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his names sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that gives me courage.
This twenty third psalm is one of my favorites and it is the psalm between our first and second readings. It brings up what I am going to talk about today: the importance the shepherd and way sheep behave in the presence of the shepherd.
I am not a country girl so I know nothing about sheep. I looked up the characteristics of sheep on Google so I would know something about them. Sheep are timid, fearful and easily panicked. They are easily influenced by the leader. They have little or no means of self-defense but to run away. They are creatures of habit; and get into ruts. Sometimes sheep can be stubborn and insist on their own way. They also are jealous and competitive. I hesitate to add that the sheep are not very smart so they must rely on the shepherd to survive.
What is the importance of the shepherd today and in Jesus' time? The shepherd is on constant watch for the sheep. He develops a close relationship with them. This relationship is so intimate that they know his voice and come when they are called. The sheep are guided and protected from danger. The shepherd makes sure that the sheep are fed food and water. The shepherd directs the sheep where to go. The shepherd searches out sheep when they would wander away and, most importantly, really, takes care of all of their needs. Jesus is often called the Good Shepherd today. We are often referred to as the sheep that Jesus takes care of. He knows each of us and knows all of our needs.
The Gospel reading speaks about a sheepfold. This is the place where Jesus would bring his flock to at night. It is a pen that holds Jesus' sheep so they would be protected. He would bring his sheep to the sheep fold by leading the sheep right to it. Then he would sleep at the entrance to the sheep fold so none of his sheep would stray. That is what Jesus does now. He calls us and expects us to follow him and stay with him. If someone does climb over the fence or if someone climbs into the pen to steal the sheep, that person is doing their own will. They do not understand that Jesus is the Gate and all that listen to the Jesus, the son of God, will be saved. It is Jesus that must call the sheep and the sheep must listen to him. I am going to tell you a story today about Jesus, the Good Shepherd which will help all of us understand the Gospel of today.
Here are some of the sheep that are in Jesus' flock. I will call them by name.
Grace: She is a sheep that tries to live a good life. She does what she can to help the other sheep she walks with. But she worries sometimes that she cannot be good enough. She has not learned that she does not have to be good all the time to be loved by God. She becomes anxious when she thinks she has forgotten something or not tried hard enough. Jesus has to constantly remind her that he is in charge and never stop loving her. All she has to do is try. Jesus knows she is a good sheep. She needs to stop comparing herself to others in the flock because Jesus finds great joy in just the way she is.
Mule: He is a sheep that is very independent. Instead of following all of the commands of the Shepherd, Mule wants to go his own way. He is stubborn and wants the other sheep to follow him. The Shepherd knows the way of Mule. He often lets him go his own way so he will learn lessons about following the way of the Shepherd. Mule needs to be rescued often from his own problems. Jesus the Shepherd loves his independent spirit but often has to rebuke him to help him learn lessons of salvation. He is always loved by the Shepherd.
Anne: She is the sheep who constantly worries about how she is to eat and how she is to drink. Anne worries about storms coming and how she will survive. She does not enjoy life but frets about what might happen during the day. When she was a child she did not have feelings of trust from her family. Jesus knows that she had to face her fears alone. Now the Good Shepherd is teaching her to trust him to help her. Jesus talks to Anne about how she can make good decisions if she asks Jesus for help. Even if is in the middle of the night the Good Shepherd will hear her and always will be there for her. Jesus loves Anne.
Anthony: He is a sheep that always has a good time without thinking of the consequences. He tries to have fun all of the time instead of getting down to business and grazing like he is supposed to. He goes off on his own if he sees something interesting and then gets lost. The Good Shepherd has to come and find him. Jesus is trying to teach Anthony to stay with the flock at all times because there is danger out there. Wolves and coyotes are all around. There also are unseen dangers that seem innocent but can turn ones thinking into chaos. Jesus always sees where Anthony is going and knows that he is innocent in his actions. He just doesn't think responsibly. Jesus guards Anthony but always tells him what actions he needs to be changing. Anthony is loved very much by the Good Shepherd.
Sadness and Grief: These are two sheep that have experienced great losses in their lives. Sadness has lost his mate and Grief has lost her friend. They both walk quietly with their heads down most of the days and never smile. Sadness and Grief believe they have a hole in the center of their heart that will never be filled. Jesus, the Good Shepherd spends a great deal of time with these two sheep to listen to their grief and to let them know they are loved beyond measure. Slowly their grief is lessoning because they have asked Jesus to help them and heal them. Even before Sadness and Grief had asked, Jesus was right there to help them. Jesus lets them walk close to him so they will feel the warmth of his love. Jesus' love reaches out to them.
Lydia: This is a sheep that has been ill for a long time. She moves slowly in the flock and does not feel well every day. Lydia worries how long she can continue to do this and worries about what might happen to her. Jesus has known Lydia for a long time so he takes special care of her. Often he picks her up and lays her across his shoulders so she will not have to struggle to keep up. These are the days she has trouble with pain, energy and depression. She feels the warmth of Jesus and knows that being carried by him is her special time with the Shepherd. What Lydia does not recognize is that the Good Shepherd carries all of the sheep from time to time when they are tired and need some rest. Lydia always gets the full attention of Jesus, the Good Shepherd when she needs some comfort and rest.
Owen: This is the sheep that does not have any friends in the flock. They ignore him because he does not speak to anyone. He acts angry all of the time. Really, he is scared that the other sheep do not like him so he stays apart from them. The Good Shepherd knows that some of the other sheep have made fun of him because his wool fur in not the same color. He is teased because he is different. Jesus always tells him how beautiful he is because his heart is pure and good. The Good Shepherd goes out of his way to praise him and tell him that he is loved. When Jesus talks to Owen, this sheep puts his head down and blushes for he knows he is loved by God ... and that is all that matters.
We can all add to list of names of sheep and the ways Jesus takes care of us.
The Good Shepherd loves all of us. We are all sheep in Jesus' flock with more names and situations that we can ever imagine. How lucky we are to be sheep in the flock where love is abundant and plentiful. How really lucky we are.