Andrew Watson: Following the good shepherd
Rev Andrew Watson reflects on John 10, Psalm 23 and the 'Good Shepherd'
SOME people are only interested in what they can get out of us. They will ruthlessly abuse us for their own twisted pleasure or gain.
Others will serve coldly; some are only in it for the money and will quickly disappear when it no longer suits them.
Even among people we rub shoulders with in the practice of religion, Jesus says there may be wolves, thieves and robbers, as well as people who are supposed to look after us but abandon us at the first hint of trouble.
By contrast with the pharisees - who excommunicated the blind man Jesus had healed and would have callously stoned a woman to death just to get Jesus in trouble - our Master promises to look after us as the 'Good Shepherd'.
King David, once a shepherd boy himself, declared: "The Lord is my shepherd."
Jesus is identifying himself with God and with this image emphasising that our creator is a compassionate and caring father.
In the open country sheep were highly vulnerable. But a conscientious shepherd cares for his flock.
He knows each one by name, and no-one is more concerned for their welfare than him.
Christians have the Lord Jesus as our shepherd; we will not be in want, we will lack no good thing.
He will lead his flock to green pasture and still water. He will provide what is good and safe.
Our souls are restored, renewed with the 'bread' and 'water of life' as Jesus fills us with his Spirit and the assurance of his grace.
With hearts nurtured by his promise of forgiveness and never-ending love, we are motivated to follow in "paths of righteousness".
Even when we must pass through dark valleys of bereavement and loss which threaten to overwhelm us, we will not be alone.
The Good Shepherd does not lead us any path he hasn't himself walked. We can reach out for him, for he is with us and he knows this path well.
We can lean on his staff for support - even his correcting rod of discipline is strangely comforting, for with the Lord there is always mercy.
We need not cower in fear of the evil one. Though we may have to face some enemies in this life, we will know the Lord's generous provision.
While certain humans may despise us, we know the anointing, overflowing blessing of God, we know the smile and favour of our master and that means so much more.
David ends his Psalm with this remarkable picture of the shepherd in goodness and loving mercy "following", pursuing us with relentless grace and kindness all our earthly days with a promise of a safe home with him forever.
If the flock couldn't make the town by nightfall they could take refuge in one of the remote sheep-folds scattered round the hills.
These were simple rings of stones with no gate. The shepherd lay down across the opening. He became the door.
No wolf or robber would get through him, but his sheep who responded to his call and followed him came in and out, safe and free.
Jesus, God the Son, came in the flesh as the Good Shepherd and laid down His life that all who trust in Him might enjoy life to the full and life that is eternal.
:: Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Co Donegal. He blogs at www.wordsurfers.com