"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." - Psalm 23, KJV
The image of God as a shepherd runs throughout scripture. What exactly does a shepherd do? It's a job description that the ancient Israelites would have been familiar with, as would much of the world throughout history, when society was more agrarian. But in today's world of agribusiness, when only a few farmers spend time on the land or with animals, we have become increasingly distant from this image.
Very few animals get to wander in green pastures these days. Instead they lead miserable short lives in factory farms. This image of God as a shepherd calls us back to a better way, a more beautiful life for the sheep and the shepherd.
I picture an Irish man with gray-flecked hair, wellington boots, a worn tweed jacket and a wool cap. He has a few sheep dogs running around his heels until given some subtle signal to run ahead. The sheep, from a distance, are white fluffy dots in a country landscape, little clouds in a sea of verdant green grass, the quaint local pub rising from the distance like an oasis. That's the fantasy.
But get up close and sheep are a different matter. They are not white but usually dirty and soiled. Their coats are not soft and fluffy so much as tangled and matted. You wouldn't want to snuggle with them. They smell. They make weird noises. Lambs are cute. Sheep not so much.
But if the shepherd is God, then you know who we are. The sheep. Lovely from a distance, but messy, smelly and a bit dim-witted when you get up close. And yet, God gets up close. God came to earth in human form, to once again be a shepherd.
As a shepherd cares for her sheep, we are loved. Let us love this earth and the creatures we share it with. Let us return to green pastures. Amen.
Lillian Daniel, author of When "Spiritual But Not Religious" is Not Enough, has a chapter in the upcoming anthology, What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most. Follow her on twitter @lillianfdaniel.