A Shepherd Who Cares
I wish the Bible had chosen a different analogy when describing us. I wish the Bible likened us to a lion, affirming our strength, or to an owl, for our wisdom, or to an eagle, suggesting that we rise above the confines of this planet, or to an elephant, since no one pushes them around, or even to a camel, for camels persevere through the toughest circumstances.
But the Bible chooses to liken us to sheep who may be the one creature on this planet most dependent upon receiving care from others. Sheep cannot outrun their enemy. They cannot fight off their enemy. They cannot defend themselves against their enemy. And they cannot outthink their enemy. They simply fall victim to attack. It doesn’t even require an enemy to put a sheep in mortal danger. If a sheep falls onto its back in a rut when its fleece if full, it can get stuck there and never be able to right itself. It will die there on its back if no one comes along to turn it over.
Since sheep are so dependent, it matters greatly who cares for them and what kind of care is given. In his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller writes of an uncaring shepherd: “The tenant sheepman on the farm next to my first ranch was the most indifferent manager I had ever met. He was not concerned about the condition of his sheep. His land was neglected. He gave little or no time to his flock, letting them pretty well forage for themselves as best they could, both summer and winter. They fell prey to dogs, cougars, and rustlers.
“Every year these poor creatures were forced to gnaw away at bare brown fields and impoverished pastures. Every winter there was a shortage of nourishing hay and wholesome grain to feed the hungry ewes. Shelter to safeguard and protect the suffering sheep from storms and blizzards was scanty and inadequate.
“They had only polluted, muddy water to drink. There had been a lack of salt and other trace minerals needed to offset their sickly pastures. In their thin weak and diseased condition these poor sheep were a pathetic sight….
“To all their distress, the heartless, selfish owner seemed utterly callous and indifferent. He simply did not care. What if his sheep did want green grass; fresh water; shade; safety or shelter from the storms? What if they did want relief from wounds, bruises, disease and parasites?
“He ignored their needs – he couldn’t care less. Why should he—they were just sheep—fit only for the slaughterhouse.”
It seems to me that there are many around us like these neglected sheep: the homeless, veterans struggling with PTSD, refugees, persons struggling with mental health issues, and others.
How would a loving shepherd care for these sheep?
The prophet Ezekiel foretold the kind of shepherd Jesus would be: “I Myself will search for My sheep and look after them…. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered…. I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down…. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (Ezekiel 34:11, 12, 14, 15, 16).
What a difference when a Shepherd actually cares for the heart and soul of His sheep—as God truly cares about our heart and our soul!
The question we need to grapple with is: What view will we take of the vulnerable and hurting and needy persons around us? Will we view such persons in the same way as the tenant shepherd viewed his sheep, “They were just sheep—fit only for the slaughterhouse”? Or will we care about their heart and soul as the Good Shepherd does? Will we be an extension of the cold-heartedness of the world? Or will we seek to be an extension of the love of Christ?