Shepherd of the Sheep
The above image contains several motifs that I have considered important. The idea of a trail or pathway leading into the distance indicates to me our journey of life. The further idea that it leads into a mist in the distance indicates that our path is often unknown. In the foreground is the shepherd leading the sheep. This is an image of the Middle Eastern shepherd similar to the story Jesus related in John 10, the story of the Good Shepherd. Then in the immediate foreground are the sheep. They are trusting, undisturbed, feeding, and simply following. The rows of trees indicate limitations beyond which the sheep are kept for safety’s sake.
“`Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.’ Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
“Therefore Jesus said again, `Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’” (John 10: 1 – 10 NIV)
I am also encouraged by this image because of the peace evident in the flock. As the shepherd in this image goes before the sheep they follow without fear; trusting in the voice and the presence of the one leading them. Psalm 23 is another description of the Middle Eastern shepherd who cares for his flock. Beginning on the home farm the sheep are in luxurious pasture where there are abundant quiet waters. This is reckoned in the Psalm as a place of renewal and refreshment; a place to recover and prepare for the necessary journey ahead. The sheep are content and would be happy to always stay beside the still waters in luxurious pasture. They are unaware of the coming of the heat of summer when the water will dry and the grass will wither. For the flock to survive they must follow the shepherd to the mountain plateau.
The journey following the shepherd will go through a narrow mountain pass. For the sheep to remain safe they must listen to and keep their eyes upon the shepherd. Around them are the dangers of marauding men and dangerous beasts and the only safe way is the path that the shepherd walks. His staff of protection and his rod of correction keeps the sheep on the narrow path; safe from all danger. Those who stray are rescued by the gentle hands of the shepherd and set again on the narrow pathway.
The heads of the sheep are anointed with oil to keep pests and parasites from infecting the eyes and making the sheep blind. Finally, the sheep emerge from the narrow divide to a tableland of rich grass where they can feast again even though they may be surrounded by men and animals who would kill and scatter them.
And so it is with us. We are often likened to sheep. Sheep are safe when they listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd; keep their eyes focused on the Shepherd because they are kept clear by the Holy Spirit; yield gladly to teaching and correction; and follow trusting to the faithful and true Shepherd to the end of life’s journey.