Posted by: liturgicalyear | April 23, 2013

The Good Shepherd (part 1)

This past Sunday is known throughout the Church as “Good Shepherd Sunday” having its roots in the words of Jesus:

Jesus said:
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”  (Jn 10:27-30)

All this week, we will hear more from the daily gospels about Jesus, the good shepherd.  In fact, today’s gospel reiterates those same words from the gospel of John.  So…when the Church tells us something many times through the proclamation of the Word, we need to pay attention.

Over the summer, at the suggestion of my sister, I read a most excellent book:  A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.  It is an amazing read, which had a great impact on me and which I highly recommend.  In 173 paperback pages, Keller, having been a shepherd during the Depression, brings to life the true meaning of the words of the 23rd psalm.  Over the next few posts, I’d like to share some of the more thought-provoking passages from his book.  As you read, I invite you to contemplate the call of Jesus, the shepherd, in your life and in this day.  Ask him to help you hear his voice, heed his voice, and respond to his call.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  He is Risen!  Anne

“The Lord is my shepherd.” (Ps 23:1)

But the day I bought them I also realized that this was but the first stage in a long, lasting endeavor in which from then on, I would, as their owner, have to continually lay down my life for them if they were to flourish and prosper.  Sheep do not just “take care of themselves” as some might suppose.  They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care. (p. 22)

In memory I can still see one of the sheep ranches in our district which was operated by a tenant sheepman.  He ought never to have been allowed to keep sheep.  His stock were always thin, weak, and riddled with disease of parasite.  Again and again they would come and stand at the fence staring blankly through the woven wire at the green lush pastures which my flock enjoyed.  Had they been able to speak I am sure they would have said, “Oh, to be set free from this awful owner!” (p. 23)

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” (Ps 23:2)

The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very makeup it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.

Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.

Because of the social behavior within a flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.

If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax.

Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food.  They must be free from hunger.

It is significant that to be at rest there must be a definite sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravations, and hunger.  The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties.  It all depends upon the diligence of the owner whether or not his flock is free of disturbing influences. (p. 41-42)

“He leads me beside still waters.” (Ps 23:2)

When sheep are thirsty they become restless and set out in search of water.  If not led to the good water supplies of clean, pure water, they will often end up drinking from the polluted pot holes where they pick up such internal parasites as nematodes, live flukes, or other disease germs.

Generally speaking, water for the sheep comes from three main sources: dew on the grass, deep wells, or springs and streams.

Most people are not aware that sheep can go for months on end, especially if the weather is not too hot, without actually drinking, if here is heavy dew on the grass each morning.  Sheep, by habit, rise just before dawn and start to feed. Or if there is bright moonlight they will graze at night. The early hours are when the vegetation is drenched with dew, and sheep can keep fit on the amount of water taken in with their forage when they graze just before and after dawn. (p. 58-60)

“He restores my soul.”  (Ps 23:3)

Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a “cast” sheep or a “cast down” sheep.

This is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself.

A cast sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success.  Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there lashing about in frightened frustration.

If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die.  This is but another reason why it is so essential for a careful sheepman to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet.  If one or two are missing, often the first thought to flash into his mind is, “One of my sheep is cast somewhere. I must go in search and set it on its feet again.”

“He guides me along right paths for his name sake.”  (Ps 23:3)

Because of the behavior of sheep and their preference for certain favored spots, these well-worn areas become quickly infested with parasites of all kinds.  In a short time a whole flock can thus become infected with worms, nematodes, and scab.  The final upshot is that both land and owner are ruined while the sheep become thin, wasted, and sickly.

The intelligent shepherd is aware of all this.  Not only just or the welfare of his sheep and the health of his land, but also for his own sake and reputation as a rancher, he must take the necessary precautions to safeguard against these adverse animal traits.  Such habits, in themselves, comprise very serious hazards

In a word – there must be a predetermined plan of action, a deliberate, planned rotation from one grazing ground to another in line with right and proper principles of sound management.  This is precisely the sort of action and the idea David had in mind when he spoke of being led in paths of righteousness.

Coupled with this entire concept of management, there is of course the owner’s intimate knowledge of his pastures.  He has been all over this ground again and again.  He knows its every advantage and every drawback.  He knows where his flock will thrive, and he is aware of where the feed is poor, so he acts accordingly. 

A point worthy of mention here is that whenever the shepherd opens a gate into a fresh pasture the sheep are filled with excitement.  As they go through the gate even the staid old ewes will often kick up their heels and leap with delight at the prospect of finding fresh feed.  How they enjoy being led onto new ground. (p. 85-88)

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