23–29 July 2017.
In the Old Testament, it was common to describe both God and kings as shepherds. This was a good reminder that God was the one who guided all Israel, and the one who cared for the whole nation. The king also took on this role as shepherd, doing God’s work of leading and protecting the nation.
But Psalm 23 brings this lovely image right down to a personal level. The Lord is not just the country’s shepherd, he is also mine. He is here for me. He is the great God of the universe, the leader of the nation, but he also cares for me like his very own lamb.
Now not all shepherds were so great. But here the writer assures us that God is not one of those bad shepherds. God isn’t a careless shepherd who ignores his sheep, beats them, and mistreats them. And when the sheep wander away, God isn’t a bad shepherd who abandons them, or who sends a fierce dog to bark at them, scare them, and chase them back to the flock. No, our Lord takes care of his sheep with love, leading them to green pastures and still waters, surrounding them with peace and security. And when we do wander away (like foolish sheep will do), Christ our Good Shepherd doesn’t send dogs after us, but chases us with his goodness and unfailing love.
No wonder then that in the ancient church, the very earliest images we have of Christ are of him as this Good Shepherd, the one who always cares for us, protects us, finds us when we are lost, and carries us home. That’s Christ’s promise to us. In our faith life, we all have times when we wander away from Christ. But No matter how bad our sins, no matter how terrible our failings, no matter how far we have wandered from God, our Good Shepherd always finds us and will always carry us back home.
The medieval church of Vézelay in France is full of ancient statues and carvings that tell the gospel story, and in one of them we see a beautiful example of the Good Shepherd’s love. In one carving we see the sad image of Judas who has hanged himself out of sorrow and regret over what he did to Jesus. But next to this image we see Christ the Good Shepherd who has come to find Judas, his lost lamb. Jesus grabs Judas, places Judas on his shoulders, and carries him back home. What a wonderful example of the Good Shepherd’s love, and his determination to never leave us behind. No matter how bad our sins are or how far from Christ we have wandered, he will always find us and carry us back home to be with him.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis