Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16, I Peter 2:21-25, John 10:11-16
I'm a sheep, you're a sheep, we're all sheep...and that's no insult by a long shot. It's actually a joyful recognition. All of today's readings are the reassurances that only a very loving God and Savior would give His beloved children. We are the figurative sheep; God and Jesus are the ever-faithful good shepherds. Comfort words that aren't just words, but actions.
It's not an easy job to be a shepherd. It's life-threatening day after day. If you're the shepherd of the flock, you're solely responsible for their care, feeding, and well-being--day after day, night after night. No time off. You can hire help, but that hired hand certainly isn't expected to risk life and limb if the wolf or some other predator shows up suddenly; they are permitted to leave the flock and seek help--if they follow through which is solely connected to the faithfulness of the hired hand. "The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is the hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep" (John 12:12-13). But if you're the shepherd, it's a different story. Your flock, your responsibility--100%. Hard work indeed.
Why such a difficult job? Well...it's sheep. Sheep have a tendency to stray and get into all kinds of trouble. There's an animated series we watch on Netflix called "Shaun the Sheep"--if you've ever seen it, you too have laughed along with all the messes that sheep can get into in a short span of time. Of course, this is entertainment and exaggerated for that purpose, but think about it...anyone who has ever dealt with sheep can probably agree that they're not exactly a breed that you just leave to fend for themselves for any length of time.
WE are the sheep in which Christ is the shepherd. Figuratively, of course, but our habits tend to make us appear pretty sheep(ish) much of the time. We constantly find ourselves straying into unknown or unnecessary territory. A misspoken word here, a bad choice there; sometimes we just flat our mess up and get in over our heads. We need rescuing and pretty quickly. "For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (I Peter 2:25). How thankful we are that we have a shepherd to watch over us and look out for us.
Do we always come through unscathed from our wanderings? I think any of us who have lived very long on this Earth know the answer to that. But even when we feel like we've been a bit mauled by the "wolves", there is still rescue. Ezekiel 34:16 assures us that "I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak." However, we are also reminded in that same verse that we are to follow the gentle shepherd's teachings and guidance in being "gentle as a lamb" with our brothers and sisters in this life; if not, "..but the sleek and strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice."
A beautiful verse also found in Ezekiel gives us comfort and shows just how much we are loved: "I will tend them in good pasture...and there they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture" (34:14). We are always, first and foremost, in the thoughts and cares of our Shepherds. All we have to do is remember to be a bit more sheep(ish) and less bull(y). We possess gentle natures; our souls feel right when we love our neighbors as ourselves, when we see needs and offer help or comfort. In these acts we follow the example of our Shepherds.
Our faithful Shepherds know us...really know us. Better than anyone else in our lives. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14). We are loved and being watched over...what more proof do we need to feel secure and live our lives to the fullest?
Peace be with you.