This week’s lectionary readings focus on The Good Shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1 NRSV). “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10: 11, 14 NRSV). Psalm 23 is one of those familiar passages that we hear at funerals and it can provide great comfort when one is walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” (23:4 KJV). The NRSV translates this phrase as “walking through the darkest valley.” I appreciate that translation because it speaks of comfort in all dark places, not just death.
Two of the stained glass windows at my home church in Philadelphia are reproductions of Bernard Plockhorst’s Good Shepherd and Jesus Blessing the Children. As a child, I spent a lot of time at the church because my family was very involved in the church’s ministries. When the adults were in meetings I would often sneak into the sanctuary to pray to the Jesus in those stained glass windows. I often pictured myself as the little lamb that Jesus cradled in his arms or the child that Jesus held on his knee. It was a place where I felt safe and those images provided great comfort to me during some dark times.
I recognize that as a “city girl” I have no context in which to understand a shepherd. In fact, most of us in the United States in the 21st century cannot grasp the sheep/shepherd context and we have a tendency to romanticize this image. The life of a shepherd was and is dangerous and risky; and sheep are not as dumb as we often make them out to be. The thing that is significant and comforting to me, though – and what I cling to even if it is romanticized – is the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. It is an intimate one. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and the shepherd is willing to risk life and limb to care for the sheep. When get lost or find ourselves in dark places, the shepherd risks his life to find us, and it is his voice that draws us home. And that’s a good place to be.
** The Plockhorst image above was used because its copyright has expired and is therefore public domain.