God as our good shepherd has always been an attractive, inviting and empowering notion for believers. In the ancient world from which this image comes, shepherds were the underclass. Although they had no voice in the society, they played critically important roles, especially for the poor. Because the poor could not afford their own sheep pens, shepherds were hired to look over the sheep of many families in a common pen throughout the night, and while they were able to rest, they could not sleep since it was their task to protect the sheep from predators. In order to do this effectively, shepherds would lie down across the opening of the sheep pen in order to protect the sheep entrusted to them. That the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament remind us that God and Jesus are shepherds, willing to give their lives for their sheep, is both comforting and challenging.
Parents are natural shepherds, willing to protect their children from anything and anyone who might threaten them. Parents almost always do this without personal concern or fear. They know it is their duty, especially in the first years of life, and would have it no other way. These days, because people are living so much longer, children often become parents to their parents, and it is these "children" caring for their parents who show us a new face of God's unconditional love. Every time I visit a hospital or nursing home and encounter people feeding and clothing their parents of a daily basis, I am moved and strengthened by their generosity and unselfishness. Theirs is a heavy burden, but like Good Shepherds, they do it graciously and compassionately.
Today, thank someone who has been a Good Shepherd to you.
What is your most helpful image of God?