The Shepherd

The many references and allusions to the shepherd of the sheep, found in the Bible, call for some consideration of this figure of speech. Jesus' reference to himself as the "good shepherd" meant more than is implied in the watchful care the shepherd exercises over the sheep of his fold. The teaching of Jesus did not imply simply watchful care, nor did it stop with loving guidance. He taught always that there was some direct and specific thing that the disciple must do. He understood, as all teachers understand, that however explicit and correct the teaching, it must still be in vain unless the one taught stands in the attitude of a student and exercises his own mental powers, and thus assimilates that which is taught. Jesus, the "good shepherd," with his great, compassionate love, could guide and direct; but the disciple must follow. He uttered the eternal truth of life, which had been hidden from the sight of the world through its ignorance. He called upon his students to put aside ignorance and superstition and their preconceived theories, and to rise above their false beliefs and the limitations of material sense, and follow his teaching.

The metaphor of the shepherd is used throughout the Bible. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want," has brought comfort and healing to many a troubled heart. The tenderness and love that breathe through the words cannot fail to leave their impress. The words that follow, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters," indicate not only that the shepherd was thoughtful and considerate of the flock, but also that the sheep were obedient and responsive. Had the sheep turned away from the streams of pure water and the quiet resting places, and in their ignorance sought the rocky hillsides and the wilderness, the table could not have been spread for them safe from predatory enemies, nor the great blessing of goodness and mercy have followed. We find also in this comforting psalm of promise and praise an indication of the punishment that must overtake the straying sheep, wandering idly, carelessly, or willfully from the shepherd's protecting care. "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me,"—the rod and the staff of Truth still comfort straying humanity. If we sin we suffer. This is inevitable, not because the Shepherd sends wrath upon the wandering one, but because when one turns from Principle and seeks in devious ways for sustenance and well–being, he is seeking it on the rocky hillsides and in the desert, where no good thing can be found, because it does not propagate or abide there.

Lost in strange and unfamiliar paths, wandering alone on the mountain side, the punishment for straying footsteps seems severe. The sheep may even perish from cold and exposure; but all the time the heart of the shepherd is tender and compassionate, longing to bring the sheep again to the fold, and to feed and comfort them. In this the likeness to straying mortals is marked. If mankind would cease suffering, they must cease sinning. There is no doubt that much of the suffering of mankind results from sins of ignorance. The sheep may not willfully wander away, but a moment of falling away from the flock, careless browsing by the wayside that seems so pleasant, and wandering in forbidden pastures that seem fair, may cause it to lose sight of the shepherd, and fear and confusion result, followed by suffering and despair.

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"Love oak"
July 26, 1919

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