Though I love fluffy, wooly sheep, I don’t know much about them. Except that they eat a lot and can pick a pasture clean in short order. So a good shepherd knows that he must keep them on the go, always looking for greener pastures. And knowing that defenseless sheep also need protection, he looks ahead, seeking shelter where his weary flock can safely rest.
The Hebrew word for pasture, naah, implies not only food, but also a cool, refreshing resting place. For when out on the transhumance trail in the wildnerness, the shepherd searched out and knew the safe refuges, a cave or overhanging rock, where he could take his sheep during storms or extreme heat.
Transhumance, according to Google, was the practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another, in a seasonal cycle, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer. The shepherds usually followed the same trails year after year.
Here in Abruzzo, our region of Italy, you can still find many transhumance trails. One, in fact, runs right through our town, which was once an overnight resting place for shepherds.
So the Good Shepherd knew the path his sheep must take.
He had already walked it before them, and knew of the dangers and hardships along the way. And he also knew where the safe shelters were, and was always ready to lead his flock there, where he would confine them in a quickly constructed sheepfold of sticks or huge thorns.
There, safely sheltered, he fed the weak, healed the injured, and warded off any lurking enemies. And the sheep himself didn’t have to do a thing – nothing at all. Nothing but stay close to the shepherd – where he got fed, healed, restored, and protected.
In following Christ we too will face enemies, peril, disease, and hunger.
For he takes us down a different path. One that goes against the grain of this wayward world, and which will procure us battles, trials and enemies. We will face moments of deep, dark valleys. But Christ already knew this and has gone before us to make provision for it all.
But like the sheep, who flee when danger is near, we are tempted to do likewise.
But that’s when we most need to run to our shepherd’s sheltering arms.
In those moments when we feel so weighed down that we are unable to sleep, pray, or even feed ourselves – that’s when we most need to turn to Christ.
And let him lead us to a safe place near the still and calming waters of his presence. For in him, we find all that we need. Through his rest, he heals our wounds. He feeds us with his goodness and his promises. And he restores our souls by reaching down to meet those deepest needs that he alone sees.
So let’s learn from the sheep.
They don’t fret or worry over storms or enemies. They don’t try to run away. They simply follow the shepherd – running to his safe shelter. Looking to him for food, for comfort, and for safety. And there they are restored.
In our moments of greatest trial and worry, the Good Shepherd has us safely in his care. Enclosed in his sheltering arms, where he’ll securely keep us until the storm has passed over.