The Lord is My Shepherd
I. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet” (Ps. 119:105).
Today, our Lord and Savior tells us He is the Good Shepherd.
In the Middle East, the shepherd and the sheep have a relationship that we can hardly grasp in the modern world. They spend each day together from sunrise to sunset. The shepherd feeds his sheep, waters them, defends them from wolves, trims their wool in warmer months, warms them in the cold, delivers their babies, and knows each and every one by their tiny voices. The sheep are defenseless on their own, but they pass the day without fear because they feel their shepherd close by.
So, this image of Christ the Good Shepherd is one of the most comforting messages in our faith. Our own lives aren’t that different from the wandering sheep. We too spend our days wandering about (bumbling about more likely), rarely knowing where we’re going and never really in control of anything. But, in our faith in Jesus Christ, we can know rest. We can rest if we tune our ears to Christ the Good Shepherd.
II. Do you know how a sheep goes astray?
He nibbles himself astray. He starts chewing on a little grass here and a little there, so fascinated with the grass that he stops paying attention to the shepherd. One mouthful at a time, and soon enough, he’s alone in the wilderness. That’s exactly what we do.
In his Epistle, St. James writes, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (1:13-15).
In Greek, this phrase about temptation reads as, “επιθυμíας εξελκóμενος και δελεαζóμενος” and has a double metaphor. First, it refers to a fish dragged out of water for swallowing a hook. The bait was sweet but it cut into to the throat. Second, it refers to the seduction of an impure woman. She promised bliss but brought death. The sheep didn’t look up. Instead, he just thought of that juicy, meaty grass...and before knowing it walked straight into the den of wolves.
III. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:15).
At the same time, this gospel gives us incredible comfort and it gives us a warning.
Do you know the voice of your shepherd?
The shepherd’s sheep spend their lives listening to and following their shepherd. The sheep that don’t listen will stray and get caught. So we too should be obsessed about hearing our Shepherd. Nothing else should concern our hearts more than listening, listening, listening…
IV. How can you tune your ears to God?
Today, I want to talk about Holy Scripture and why we need to study it.
The Scriptures themselves are clear.
“Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“Bind [the scriptures] on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you” (Proverbs 6:21-22).
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
V. As Orthodox Christians we sometimes forget the urgency of studying scriptures. We think we do our Christian duty by reading a verse or two a day, and that’s very well…if you’re trying to starve yourself spiritually. If you look at the lives and teachings of the saints in every century since Christ you’ll always find one thing in common. The saints practically memorized the bible.
“Just as the tree planted by the channels of waters, so also the soul watered by the divine Scripture is enriched and gives fruit in its season...” St. John of Damascus writes, “let us not knock carelessly but rather zealously and constantly.”
St. Seraphim of Sarov used to read all four gospels daily and taught people to spend as much time as possible studying scripture. “In return for this exercise alone,” he says, “without the addition of any other virtuous deeds, the Lord grants man His mercy and fills him with the gift of understanding. When a man provides his soul with the word of God, then he is granted the understanding of what is good and what is evil.”
Furthermore, St. John Chrysostom, urges the Church to scrutinize every word of scripture. ‘To get the full flavor of an herb,” he says, “it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches.”
The Holy Scriptures are sacramental.
As you read them you are literally breathing in the breath of God. The time you spend in the scriptures is time with God, it is time listening to the shepherd like the sheep in the flock, and the more you know its words the more you know God.
VI. Christ is the Good Shepherd.
It is up to us to stay in His fold, to strain our ears and listen. So long as we do, we will know peace and be able to say:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23). Amen.