Last week in our Sunday readings, we thought about fishermen and this week, on what we refer to as Good Shepherd Sunday, we move to shepherds. There are only four instances in the entire Bible where fishermen are mentioned. On the other hand, shepherds are mentioned over 100 times. All the patriarchs and their wives were shepherds at some point in their lives, usually in their formative years. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David, all at some point spent time in the fields minding the flocks of their families.
There are shepherds scattered throughout the Bible, historically and through analogy, as leaders of the people of God. And in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, God refers to Himself as The Good Shepherd.
And with God as our Good Shepherd, we therefore also see that the people of God consistently referred to as sheep. Sheep are mentioned over 200 times in the Bible. We are alluded to as fish perhaps only one time, when Jesus tells Peter he will now be a fisher of men. And I am certain that the reason God does not refer to his children as fish has to do with the fact that fish are not known for their individual personality, and they certainly are not known for needing nurturing and care.
Sheep on the other hand seem to need care from the very beginning, when they are little lambs. Their mothers and their shepherds, feed them, lead them, water them and keep them safe. Sheep also have personality, and they naturally want to live in community. That is why sheep who are brought up by dogs, try to act and fit in with the herd of dogs with whom they live.
Sheep naturally want to follow a shepherd and they naturally want to belong to a herd. Our hope, therefore, is that we land in a good herd with a good shepherd. Following the One who is faithful and true. Who knows each of us by name. The one who is with us through thick and thin. The one who provides our daily bread and gives us good crystal-clear springs of living water.
Yet we are not just sheep, we are not just followers. We are called to be a kingdom of priests, lights in the world, leaders of families and groups, showing others the way of faith. In the reading from Acts, we see Tabitha and Peter, caring for others, leading others in the ways of a faithful life. And so this day we also hear about the miracle of the raising of Tabitha. She was a woman who was known for her good works, her care for others. If you think about it, I believe this may be the only miracle of someone who is healed, in fact raised from the dead, because of her good works. All of the other healing miracles were of disease or handicaps or demons, where Jesus or the apostles happened upon someone as they were going their way, whom they met seemingly by chance, and then through a miracle, restored the person to wholeness. Those healings did not depend upon anything the person did, how good or righteous they were. The blind, the lepers, the demons, the physical injuries, the lame, all were healed, but none because they were especially good people.
On the other hand, in the reading from Acts, we hear that Tabitha, was a woman of faith, living a life of faith. Upon her death, she was mourned deeply by those who knew her. She was a good shepherd of her people. Tabitha was therefore commended for using her gifts to help others. This story brings to mind that well-known writing of James, the brother of Jesus, that faith without works is dead. Tabitha’s faith was clearly alive and well, and through her life and this miracle we who live in faith have a witness that our lives of faith will be rewarded. I do have to kind of wonder how she felt about being called back to this side of heaven, but we can tell by the ending of the story that this faithful soul used her experience to bring even more people to God. Her temporary earthly resurrection certainly added even more meaning and more joy to her faith.
I also love the fact that the one who was raised for her life of faith, was not technically a religious leader or someone who was essentially pious. And as we remembered this week the women in our lives on Mother’s Day, do not miss how often women are commended in the Bible for their faith. Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the widow in the temple who gave her last two mites. Deborah the judge in the Old Testament who is commended as a leader with courage, and in the New Testament, Lydia who held a church at her home. These women may not have been the preachers or shepherds on Sunday, but they certainly were the good shepherds on the days in-between.
In the end, it is my hope that we see today, that we are all called to be good shepherds. It is easy to see that mothers, and fathers, are called to shepherd their children, but we actually are all responsible for the various flocks entrusted to us, large and small. For example, can you see that Employers also are called to raise up employees in job skills and life, acting as mentors and good examples, sharing knowledge and helping their employees to advance? Teachers, are you good shepherds of the children in your care? Doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers, do you truly care for the welfare of your patients, mind, body, and soul? Friends, do you help your other friends along the way, nurturing them, being kind to one another, sharing life together in good times and bad? Sharing good food and love and laughter? We all have opportunities each day to be good shepherds to one another, pointing the way to good things. Sharing abundance, walking together in dark valleys. Helping lost souls to find their way home. Nurturing one another, building one another up, increasing in health and goodness. Caring for one another with love. Reminding one another in word and deed that the Lord is always with us. Because in the end we are all called to follow the way of Jesus, our truly good shepherd.
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Robin Hinkle is the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Jasper.