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That'll Do

On Sunday the Psalm was the famous 23rd.  I’ve heard it so many times that I never expected anything new to come wandering across the border from that hinterland, but there ya go. So, the liminal phrase is this: “Your rod and your staff they comfort me,” or as the CJB says, “your rod and staff reassure me.”

I got to thinking, “Well, just exactly how does a shepherd use a staff and a rod?” The staff is used to guide the sheep and to catch them. Traditional staffs used in the UK have horn crooks with a sharp curled tip, which I suspect is designed to catch in the fleece. The rod was essentially a club used to defend against predators, but also as a goad to correct the sheep.

I’ve never really identified with the sheep; I mean they are really not very smart and don’t have much of a survival instinct. I also have misgivings about identifying myself as the shepherd of the sheep. So, I asked myself, “What other role might I fill in the whole sheep-shepherd metaphor?” and it came to me: Sheepdog!

I watched some amazing videos of shepherds and their dogs working the sheep, and I’m pretty sure that I’m right on the money. Sheepdog, that’s me. My predatory instincts tamed and used in an incredible synergy between dog and shepherd. I got the chills watching a masterful Irish shepherd on YouTube, and imagining him as Christ. None of this soft, fluffy sentimentalizing of the cute little sheep here! Nope, no doe-eyed Jesus gently laying the lost little lamb on his shoulder and tenderly carrying it home. Not even! No shepherd worth his salt would have that kind of attitude toward his sheep.

I don’t think there is any justification for imagining that the Good Shepherd in Scripture is something different from a good shepherd in the practical sense. A good shepherd knows the sheep and knows what they are good for. He takes good care of them, but he certainly doesn’t mawkishly pamper them, or sit idly mooning over the beauty of the pastoral scene while pondering the deep philosophical implications of the shepherd-sheep relationship.

No, a good shepherd has authoritative skills, and when it comes to working the sheep herd with dogs, he has a different-sounding whistle for each dog and he might work up to five dogs at once! Can you imagine the complexity of the task and the artistry it takes for a shepherd to manage five different dogs with simultaneous commands along with all the combinations and permutations in real time, and know from minute-to-minute exactly how the sheep will respond? Wow!

I got an enormous kick out of imagining myself as Jesus’s sheepdog, with all of my ravenous instincts under discipline in the service of the Good Shepherd. It made me happy to think of myself eagerly responding to my own special whistle— running happily left and right; forward and around; dropping abruptly down to hold the sheep spellbound with my eye, all in answer to my master’s adroit and practiced commands.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the movie “Babe” and the satisfied shepherd saying, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

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