The flock were scattered across the bitter dry hills of the world. Some had meandered their way into lush valleys, but there were poisoned weeds hidden in the grass, and they had no shepherd to keep them safe. Some were struggling to survive in places where the pasture was scant and bitter. Some were dried out with longing because they could not find still water where it was safe to drink, only a dusty puddle here and there. Some had drunk from unclean water and were burdened with deep sickness. Some had perished, falling from rocky paths, or straying too close to the edge desperate to reach food. Others, many others, had fallen prey to lions and wolves, who found them easy meat when there was no shepherd to protect them. Some had once known a shepherd’s care, but had sought their own way instead, and now they were desperately alone. All of them were afraid, all of them were defenceless.
Oh, in some places there were those who called themselves shepherds. They strutted as if their shepherds’ crooks were badges of high office, they held feast days in their own honour, but the wise noticed that they roasted from their own flock as the high point of their feasts. For they did not love the sheep, they cared only for their own gain, and managed aright, there could be great gain in shepherding. The sheep could be fleeced, the sheep could be sold, the sheep could be devoured – and all without actually caring for them! They never cared for the weak and the sick, or searched for the lost; they did not find them safe pasture or still waters for their thirst. There was nowhere the sheep could lie down in safety and find the rest they craved. There was no one to protect them from the wild beasts – when a wolf or a lion appeared, these false shepherds ran away. Their shepherds’ crooks remained covered in gilt and bright paint, for they had never been used for the dirty messy joyful work of caring for the sheep. And the sheep themselves, in their fear and despair, would sometimes turn and hurt one another, and the strong grew fat and sleek, and the weak went to the wall; the strong trampled the pasture and left nothing for the others.
But there was one who loved the sheep, who loved them more than his own life. The Lord Almighty, the Maker of the sheep, would not be silent forever. He Himself, the True Shepherd would come to the rescue of His sheep. He would judge the false shepherds, and not let them harm his flock any longer. He would go forth into the storms and the depths of darkness, He would cross the dreadful river and go forth into the barren wastelands, He would endure the unendurable to find His sheep and bring them safely back. For He is the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep – for one reason and reason only – because He loves them so very, much!