The Lord is my shepherd… (Psalm 23:1a)
The Good Shepherd
My grandfather was a shepherd, on a little farm on the outskirts of Metamora, MI. My father recalled seeing his father leading his sheep through the fields, carrying a bucket of saltwater. My grandpa would walk slowly in front of the flock, flinging the tasty, salty elixir behind him. As my dad described it, the sheep in the back didn’t even know why they were following, while the ones closer to the front would get an occasional taste of the saltwater. But the sheep that followed closest—on the heels of the shepherd—would get the best treats, lapping the coveted treats directly off the shepherd’s hand.
There is probably no passage of scripture that is more familiar than our psalm today. Psalm 23 is recited at baptisms and funerals and pretty much every point between. For that reason, some of us “seasoned” Bible geeks might be tempted to gloss over it dismissively as we read through the psalms. But this song is famous for a good reason. It not only beautifully describes what a shepherd does, and why that is an appropriate metaphor to describe God. It also seems to capture every aspect of what it feels like to be a sheep…what it means to follow a really good shepherd. (You can read Omar Garcia’s great line-by-line reflection on that point HERE)
Before he was a famous king, David was a shepherd. He knew that life. It was a hard life—lonely, sacrificial, and often dangerous. Like the slogan says, it was “More than a job…it’s an adventure!” To be a good shepherd, you had to really love your sheep…you had to really know your sheep.
And the closer the sheep got to their shepherd, the more they discovered how loved and known they were.
Jesus uses this shepherd metaphor to describe his relationship with us. He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd—I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:11,14) It’s a helpful metaphor to understand who Jesus is. He is the Lord, and “The Lord is my Shepherd.” But it’s infinitely more than that. It also describes who we are, and what it means for us as sheep of that good shepherd! We are cared for, protected, sheltered, led, healed, and fed. We are loved and we are known.
The shepherd delights in us, He would lay down his life for us. In fact, He did. The Good Shepherd became the spotless, sacrificial Lamb who died in our place. And now he sits enthroned in heavenly glory, and he continues to shepherd us to joy and life. “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.” (Rev. 7:17).
“Living water…” Doesn’t that sound good? We can know that living water if we know that Shepherd. We can taste it if we stay close to him. Sure, you can follow aimlessly from the back of the pack and still end up going where we you are supposed to go. OR…you can follow close on His heels and lap up every bit of the real life He is offering us…every day. Why not do THAT? Stay close…and stay thirsty…for him!