We may find it insulting to be called a sheep. That’s what this psalm seems to do. We often have disparaging images of sheep as dim-witted, bumbling, and prone to wandering. And as accurate as that may be in describing us at times, it doesn’t seem like a very endearing self-image.
Both the psalmist and the Gospel speaker know what sheep are really like. The attributed author of the psalm is David, whom we first meet when he is tending sheep in the field, watching them, caring for them, and protecting them. And when Jesus describes the life of a shepherd in this reading from John, we get some insight into a sheep’s life.
“My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says in John 10:27. “I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus says not only is it acceptable for us to be like sheep, but it is compulsory for sheep to know the voice of their shepherd. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is one of familiarity, which means that Jesus knows us fully and deeply. We are not a random combination of protein and water, taking up space on the planet with no meaning in life. We are people with a purpose, known intimately by the God who created us and by Jesus who offered his own life for us. And our only task is to allow that shepherd to lead us to green pastures, to still waters, and in paths of righteousness.
We may feel dim-witted, bumbling, and prone to wandering. But Jesus knows us intimately, and Psalm 23 reminds us of the command he gave his disciples and gives us all: “Follow me.”
God, thank you for knowing me fully. In you I find my truest purpose and meaning. Teach me to follow you. Amen.
This week’s readings open with a confrontation in Acts between Peter and John and some of the religious leaders. Peter speaks in harsh terms to the leaders, stating that they had killed Jesus; yet by the power of Jesus’ name, a man who could not walk has been healed. By that same name spiritual healing happens as well. The other three passages employ the metaphor of the Good Shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd,” the psalmist declares, and the shepherd cares for all our needs. In John’s Gospel, Jesus declares that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. First John repeats this imagery. Jesus proved his love when he lay down his life for us. If we truly love one another, we also ought to sacrifice in tangible ways.
• Read Psalm 23. How comfortable do you feel about God’s provision for your life? Do you believe you have enough?
• Read Acts 4:5-12. When have you gotten into difficulty for exercising your Christian faith and values? If never, why not?
• Read 1 John 3:16-24. The writer notes that we may find being called sheep unbecoming. He goes on to mention that the epistle of John addresses followers of Christ as “little children.” Would you prefer to be a sheep or a child? Why?
• Read John 10:11-18. Which of your assumptions about God have been turned upside down? How did this come about?
Respond by posting a prayer.