Texts: Psalms 23
A shepherd with his sheep is a common metaphor used throughout the Bible to describe the relationship between God and his people. The 23rd Psalm begins famously with “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” [Psalms 23:1] The psalmist then goes on to describe his reliance on, and faith in, the Lord as his shepherd.
Ezekiel 34 describes the relationship from the Lord’s perspective: “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” [Ezekiel 34:11] But Ezekiel adds a new twist at the end when he brings in the concept of judgment: “This what the Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.” [Ezekiel 34:17]
Matthew 25:31-46 is the well known passage about Christ judging and separating the sheep from the goats, separating those who have done well in his eyes from those who have not. This is a significant shift from the 23rd Psalm because it describes not only our reliance on God, but also his expectations of us. It is wonderful to have a shepherd on whom we sheep can rely, but that same shepherd also expects his sheep to take care of each other.
It is also important to see that Christ’s focus is on the poor and the marginalized of society: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the sick, the imprisoned. “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” [Matthew 25:40]
This lesson is especially important in the context of the HIV epidemic because the disease so disproportionally affects the marginalized. I attended the 20th International AIDS Conference recently in Melbourne, Australia. As I listened to many discussions about the effect of the disease on key populations, I kept repeating to myself, “Christ came for the marginalized.”
To Think About: When I stand before his throne, will Christ think of me as a sheep or a goat?
Written by: Dr. David Barstow: President, EMPACT Africa