March 30: Obedient and stubborn sheep
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I first remember reading Psalm 23 as a child looking out my Sunday school class window of my country church. The rolling green pastures right by the grove of trees and ravine along the church property provided my imagination the earliest canvas for this psalm. Completing my imagination of this psalm were calm and obedient sheep which populated the hillside.
By the time I was in fourth grade, my brothers and I started showing lambs at the county fair. My images of obedient sheep quickly changed as I struggled to raise my stubborn lamb. Contrary to the nursery rhyme, mine didn’t follow me when I took it out for walks. In one particularly frustrating experience I recall spending the better part of an afternoon trying to round up our sheep after one of us boys forgot to close their gate.
I appreciate how the psalmist compares himself to a sheep. Like sheep, we’re not innocent. We can be stubborn. I am reminded of my own hubris – my own temptation to turn from God. But we have a Good Shepherd who watches over us. Psalm 23 points out that we lack nothing. However, such goodness comes not from our own resourcefulness, but rather from the providence to whom we belong.
During this Lenten season, I am drawn to the middle part of the psalm. We are not given a choice whether we may go around the valley of the shadow of death. Surely, dark valleys will come. The frailty of our human condition promises this. What is clear is that we need not walk it alone – God is with us, and can provide us with protection and comfort. This season of Lent allows us to reflect on God’s own effort to be with us as the righteous lamb of God.
As God walks with us, may we continue to reflect on the one whose path we follow. Prodding us along, the stubborn sheep we are, may God’s sheep dogs, Goodness and Mercy, continue to follow us as we journey closer toward home.