“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned to our own way.” – Isaiah 53:6a
“…Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4b
In January due to the generous and gracious gifts of two priests of the Diocese of Lexington, I was on a Peace Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. I will be processing the experience for a very long time, perhaps the rest of my life. However, one thing that has been focusing my attention was our visit to the Shepherds’ Field on a hillside of Bethlehem and some of the teaching of our guide, “Sam”.
On this hillside there are a number of caves, as is true in that part of the land. One of the caves has been designated as the possible place where the shepherds gathered with their sheep (and goats) and were visited by angels when Jesus was born. Sheep do not rest well on empty stomachs and do not feel safe. Placing the animals in the cave and closing it with some of the ubiquitous limestone rocks gave the shepherds time to relax and rest around a fire during the night. During the day the Shepherd’s rod was protection against predators, and seeing the shepherd walking along with the staff or leaning on it was a comfort to the flock. However, there was another use for the staff: it was a tool to remind the sheep to follow and stay with the flock. When a sheep scampered off to some greener looking grass the shepherd would tap the staff two times on a rock, say “get back here”, and sometimes that is what happened. But at other times that grass just proved to be too tempting and off went the sheep. When the shepherd saw this the sheep received two whacks on the neck, “didn’t you hear me?”. If the sheep persisted and wandered more widely, possibly falling into a hole or getting tangled in some brambles, the shepherd had one more way to bring the sheep to obey, this one more serious for the sheep, more demanding for the shepherd and shocking to me. Since sheep have fragile feet, the shepherd would break one of the feet! Then after putting on a healing balm, and wrapping the foot the shepherd would hoist the sheep onto his shoulders and carry it for the next two to three weeks. All this has caused me to wonder how it is that the Good Shepherd gets our attention. What are the taps, the whacks, the broken feet we experience that finally call us back to trust and obey?
May this Blessed Lenten season call us once again to a conscience examen, repentance and life anew.
The Rev. Marcia Hunter