Sheep heavily rely upon their vision. The placement of their eyes enables a wide field of sight for them to scan their surroundings quickly for any surprises, particularly predators. Since their sense of security depends on being able to see other sheep, a good shepherd knows to keep sheep within visual contact of one another to ensure their physical and emotional well-being.
Consequently, sheep are reluctant to go into any territory in which they cannot see. They avoid shadows and dark places. Verse four holds more significance than we might first realize: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley”—or “the valley of the shadow of death” (kjv)—“I fear no evil.” Here, the sheep must reach for a trust beyond dependence on sight to a trust rooted in what has come before: the ways the shepherd has hitherto led them to provision, protection, and restoration. In this frightening period in which they cannot see the next step, the sheep still follow the shepherd because they have known and experienced the shepherd’s love, care, and protection.
Note how the sheep know the shepherd’s presence in such times of darkness: “Your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” These tools of the shepherd serve both protective and corrective functions. Shepherds use the rod as a club to defend the sheep from predators and use the hook of the staff for gentle redirection, correction, and rescue if a sheep wanders or falls into an area seemingly out of the shepherd’s reach.
We all have times in our lives when we cannot see what comes next or feel we are surrounded by darkness. If we rely upon sight alone, despair threatens to engulf us. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, calls us to a conviction of things presently unseen—a conviction that our Shepherd’s guiding influence reaches beyond mere sight.
Lord, you are the Good Shepherd. Strengthen a faith in me that reaches beyond my current circumstances. Amen.
The imagery of sheep plays a prominent role in three of this week’s readings. Psalm 23 uses the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep as its guiding metaphor. The Lord is our shepherd and leads us to safe and fertile places. Even when we pass through a dark valley, the Lord is there protecting us with a shepherd’s weapon, a staff. In the Gospel reading, Jesus describes himself as a shepherd who calls his sheep. Because they are his, they hear his voice. In Revelation, Jesus becomes the sheep—or more specifically, the Lamb that was slain on our behalf. Those who endure will praise the Lamb forever. Acts is different in that it focuses on a resurrection story, a manifestation of God’s power working through Peter.
Read Acts 9:36-43. How can you be a witness and a vessel for God’s activity?
Read Psalm 23. Reflect on the questions the author poses in Tuesday’s meditation. Allow God’s guidance and correction to be comforting.
Read Revelation 7:9-17. How does knowing Christ as both Lamb and Shepherd help you work to bring about things not yet seen?
Read John 10:22-30. How does your faith allow you to hold gently your convictions without needing to grasp tightly to certainties?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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