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Sheep May Safely Graze

November 20, 2017

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. . . I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” (Ezekiel 34: 15, 23-24).

Sheep May Safely Graze, an aria by J.S. Bach, was played as my candlelighter brothers lit the candles, Bob and his groomsmen entered the church, and the bridesmaids, flower girls, and ring bearer slowly made their way down the aisle at our wedding.  This calming, pastoral piece of music came to mind last spring as we traveled through the verdant green Tuscan countryside dotted with sheep quietly grazing.  It was a picture of peace and contentment.  The cars, buses, and trucks whizzed by and the planes droned overhead, yet the sheep, confident of the shepherd’s protection, grazed contentedly.  We, like the sheep in the pasture, should be content and at peace in the knowledge that God is in control and will take care of us.  It is as our Good Shepherd would have it.   He knows the burdens we bear, but he assures us that he is with us always. He will take care of us and see us through the most challenging times of our lives, and will carry us to the green pastures beyond this life.

Phillip Keller was a shepherd in East Africa. He recounts that “Any shepherd who is a good manager always bears in mind one objective: It is that his flock may flourish. The continuous well being of his sheep is his constant preoccupation. All of his time, thought, skill, strength and resources are directed to this end.” [1] Just as a shepherd oversees his flock with a watchful eye, so does our Good Shepherd keep watch over us.  He wants us to be safe and to flourish.

In this the last week of the church year, the Scripture lessons focus on the one who was predicted to become and did become the perfect shepherd.[2] The texts remind us that Jesus, our perfect shepherd, was born in the line of David, as had been prophesized.

More than 800 years before David became king in 1010 B.C., Jacob predicted that the Messiah would be born of the line of his son, Judah (Genesis 49: 10-11). After David ascended to the throne, God instructed Nathan to deliver the news to David, the former shepherd: “Now then, tell my servant David,This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. . . When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. . . . Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (Excerpts from 2 Samuel 7: 8-16).

In the next century, Ethan, a contemporary of David’s son, Solomon, wrote Psalm 89 confirming the Davidic covenant. In the ensuing centuries, God raised up prophets to remind the Israelites of the promised Messiah, from the line of David: Hosea and Isaiah (8th Century B.C.), Jeremiah (7th Century B.C.), and Ezekie1 (6th Century B.C.).

Ezekiel was one of a long line of prophets and Biblical patriarchs who foretold that the Messiah would be born in the line of King David.  Ezekiel lived in the 6th century B.C. during the Babylonian captivity, and as both a priest and a prophet, ministered to the needs of his fellow Jewish exiles in the streets of Babylon, near Bagdad, in current day Iraq. Conjuring up the imagery of the shepherd, Ezekiel writes that God told him to report the following: “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness . . . I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land . . . I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord . . . I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” (Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 14-15, 23-24).  The Messiah who would be born of the line of David, would be the perfect shepherd, God’s only son.

The psalm continues the imagery of God as the shepherd: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95: 6-7).

Like the sheep in the pastoral setting in Tuscany who safely graze under the watchful eye of a vigilant and caring shepherd, we find peace when we rely on the perfect shepherd to lead us to still waters, to provide and care for us.  And we are asked to pass on his care for us to those around us.  Jesus, the perfect shepherd asks us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, invite strangers into our midst, provide clothes to the needy, and visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25: 37-45).  Jesus makes it very clear that giving lip service to our faith is not enough. We are required to pass on the blessings we have received to others: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for the one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 45-46).

God is the Good Shepherd who tends his flock with a watchful eye.   When you cry out to him, he is there to carry you, to comfort you, to save you from the certain destruction that would befall you if you were left to your own devices. And he will guide you to shepherd others as he has cared for and shepherded you. Listen to the shepherd’s call and follow him.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Keller, The Shepherd Trilogy: A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd, (1970) Zondervan, p.228.

[2] The Scripture texts for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost are Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 15: 20-28; Matthew 25: 31-46

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