The Good Shepherd – The Image Appears

Readings for this week June 13 – 17

Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

General_Readings_Booklet_-_Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1 – The Lord is My Shepherd

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:1

The idea of God as a shepherd was not unusual in the ancient Middle East; other cultures also contained the idea of a king as a shepherd, and the thought of applying the analogy to God had already appeared in the Hebrew scriptures. Genesis 49:24 refers to God as “the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.” Here in New Zealand we are familiar with farmers, the modern equivalent to shepherds, although our society’s opinion of farmers is markedly different to ancient Israel’s view of shepherds. In most ancient Middle Eastern cultures the work of the shepherd was considered fit only for the lowest of the low. In any given farming family, the unpleasant job of tending the sheep was always given to the youngest son – like David.

And yet God deigns to take care of us and guide us and protect us the way a shepherd does his flock. The image that the Psalmist has chosen here is not a distant one like ‘shield’, or ‘rock’ or even the impersonal ‘king’. Shepherd is intimate, it implies closeness, proximity, the shepherd living with the sheep, handling them, defending them and protecting them in the reality of their world and environment. And, for the Psalmist, God is ‘my shepherd’. He knew the closeness and love of God his shepherd in a close, personal sense. A key theme bound up with the image of shepherd is one of care, concern, loving attention lavished on his charges, and the provision of peace and security for their well-being. This the Psalmist knows deep in his being. “The Lord is my shepherd” – and I am his.

Questions to Consider
What does the word shepherd mean to you? What does it mean to say you are one of God’s sheep?

Prayer
Holy Father, thank you for your love for me and your care for your people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Giver of Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:2-3

Many translations of verse three use the word ‘soul’, and speak of it being restored or refreshed, as if the Lord was merely reinvigorating someone who was exhausted. But that is not what the Hebrew word nefesh means. It more accurately translates as ‘breath of life’ or simply ‘life’, and is meant to conjure up the image of someone being resuscitated, or restored to life after a brush with death (Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms, p.78). This signifies the utter dependence the sheep have upon their master, and that we are to have on God, as the one who gives and sustains life, the Creator who breathed life into us. And as the one who gave us life in the first place, the one who knows us best and knows what is best for us, he is the one we are to look to, ahead of all others. He is our leader.

And it is this idea of leadership that is often missed here. The emphasis on the shepherd being the one who leads also highlights an important point that we can easily forget. We do not need to know where the green pastures and pleasant fields and flowing streams are; that is not what we are to focus on. All we need to know is where the shepherd is. The shepherd is the one who will guide the sheep to what they need. All that the sheep need to do is trust the shepherd, stay close to him, and follow, in holy obedience, where he leads.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean to follow the shepherd? How are we to tune ourselves in to the shepherd’s voice?

Prayer
Almighty God, keep me close. Guide me with your Word and through your Spirit so that I might know my Master’s loving voice more and more with each passing day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Wherever We Go

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:4

The promise of God is not that there will be no dark times – that his sheep will always be safe and secure and will never find themselves in dangerous places – but that he is always with us in these dark times and dangerous places. Our reason for not fearing is that he is with us, he journeys with us every step of the way – the shepherd stays close by his sheep, even when the sheep make a misstep off the path the shepherd is leading them down. The shepherd’s rod and staff will guide and console, images from the shepherd metaphor designed to show the continuing care and love that the shepherd lavishes on his flock, that God lavishes on us.

Notice that, at this crucial moment of panic and fear, the speaker turns to God and addresses him in the second person – you, your – a further sign of the deep intimacy and closeness that the speaker feels with God. My shepherd. This is a relationship of reciprocated love.

God is intimately close to us at all times, and here we are reminded that even in the most dire of circumstances, we are not to fear because he is with us. Too often we can focus on the danger, the fear, the uncertainty, more than we focus on the one who loves us and will never leave us. Because God does not lead us anywhere he does not also travel. And as we wander off track (like a solitary lost sheep), there is nowhere he won’t go in order to get us back.

Question to Consider
When has God left the path in order to find you? What happened?

Prayer
Lord God, thank for never leaving nor forsaking me, even when I leave or forsake you. Thank you for seeking and finding. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – In the Presence of My Enemies

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:5

God does not promise that all our enemies will automatically be destroyed. God’s love and concern and care for us doesn’t automatically get rid of the ‘presence of [our] enemies’ – instead, shockingly, we are able to experience God’s goodness and provision and his bounty right in the midst of our enemies.

God does not promise that we will never experience times of danger or trouble but rather that he will always be with us. In the midst of our enemies, God is there too. We experience his presence, not just his bounty.

The word in verse 5 often translated as ‘anointing’ is dishen, but this isn’t the same word used in the sense of anointing in other places in the Old Testament. In this psalm the word means something closer to moisten, not in a ritual sense but in a luxuriant sense, reinforcing the sheer audacity of God laying a table in the face of enemies (Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms, p79). This verse lists some of the elements of a contented life and places them in the presence of our enemies to show God’s provision and rule at all times.

Questions to Consider
When has God miraculously provided for you in the face of your enemies? How did it give you a new appreciation for him?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me find you in the presence of my enemies. Help me seek the goodness you provide even in the face of threats and danger. May my focus always be on you and your goodness, and not the fear or uncertainty that sometimes surrounds me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – All the Days of My Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 23:6

In the world of the Old Testament, to dine at someone’s table wasn’t the same as socially having someone over for a meal the way we do today. It was a more formal occasion, with a lot of relational weight behind it. To eat together was to create a bond of mutual loyalty and devotion, to join in a close relationship of common cause – often a covenant relationship. It was very common for alliances and treaties and so forth to culminate in a great feast to cement the newly forged relationship between the entreating parties. To dwell in the house of the Lord is a similar thing here. It’s more than to be invited in for a meal, to stay the night before being on your way again. It is to live with him, to be joined with him in relationship. That is what the shepherd offers his sheep – he offers them his friendship and his care.

This is one of the key things about Jesus as our shepherd, as the Good Shepherd (to briefly look ahead a few weeks). We have seen that our shepherd is with us, guides us, is intimately involved in our lives and our joys and our troubles. He does not shrink from getting involved in the messiness of our lives. As Jesus himself says, “I know my sheep and they know me” (John 10:14). And yet a little later on he calls us his friends. Yes, he is our Master, the one we follow and obey. But he is also our friend, inviting us to enter his house and feast with him “forever more”.

Questions to Consider
What is the difference that having Jesus as a friend as well as a shepherd makes? How do the two images complement and reinforce each other?

Prayer
Lord God, You are the Good Shepherd. You are our Lord and master, leading us onwards, always looking out for us and providing for us. You are also our friend. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)