Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Changing Perspectives--The Warrior Shepherd

In yesterday’s post, I talked about a new perspective on the 23rd Psalm and the phrase, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

From that line of thinking, my mind went to another familiar story: the Parable of the Lost Sheep—Luke 15:3-7. The reason the sheep was lost is never given, but it’s always spoken of in terms of the poor little guy just wandered off and wasn’t paying attention. Suddenly he looks up and realizes that he’s all alone, or maybe he’s fallen down a ledge and can’t get back up. The Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes and lowers His hand or His staff and lifts the sheep to safety.

In the artist renditions of this, I’ve seen pictures of a smiling Jesus, casually carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders—looking like he’s having a conversation along the lines of:
“You silly little sheep! What were you thinking wandering off like that?” Kind of like this.

But what if the circumstances of why the sheep is missing changes? What if it is more like when David described himself to Saul before facing Goliath; paraphrasing, “when a lion or a bear carried off a sheep—I went after it, grabbed it by the throat and killed it.” Those moments of facing down the lion and bear—knowing that God was with him and had his back—it was in those moments that David knew he could defeat Goliath.

Back to the lost sheep story—I considered—maybe the reason why the sheep is lost is more like David’s experience with the lion or the bear. What if the reason that the sheep is lost is not because it is just wandering around not paying attention but instead because it is carried off by a hungry predator?

Does that change the mental image of this picture? It does for me. A predator was one of the greatest enemies of a shepherd. And once a predator began to see the flock as an easy meal—it would continue to pick them off until it is killed.

So a predator, a lion is an enemy of the shepherd. Then I turned to 1 Peter 5—Paul is giving instructions to the elders of the church to “Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.” He then says in vs. 4—“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

It makes sense then that in v. 8—Peter brings up the subject of a lion. 1 Peter 5:8—“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Applying that passage and David’s description of the life of a shepherd to the story of the lost sheep changes it’s tone. In this scenario, the Good Shepherd is not just thinking, “the poor little guy has wandered off again” but instead sees signs that the sheep has been attacked and carried off. He picks up his staff and begins to follow the trail of blood, looking for footprints to let him know what He’s dealing with, hoping that He’ll find his sheep in time before the predator kills it.

His face is stern and ready for a fight. When He finds the sheep, He first has to fight and kill the predator, a daunting task for a single shepherd with a staff and His bare hands—much like David. The shepherd’s body is charged with adrenaline and is now focusing on the probably injured sheep.

So now, when I think of this parable and the description of the Good Shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders—it’s no longer the casual, smiling face—it’s the stern face of someone who has just come out of a fight. There is blood on his hands and there is a dead lion a short distance behind Him. He is rejoicing because He has rescued His sheep. From certain death. Once again, we are rescued from the dominion of darkness by our Warrior Shepherd.

A friend from work, Sharon, worked with me for a month to get this concept down.  This is done in colored pencil.  She did an amazing job!


M Ryan Taylor said...

I can totally see it going both ways, but this interpretation would make for an interesting painting. You could even see the dead lion or bear in the distance over the shoulder. I'd love to see some artist tackle that.

Kelly Reed said...

I would love to see an artist do that as well. It would definitely have a different look to it.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ryan.

Shirley said...

The story of the shepherd going after the lost lamb was the subject of our children's sermon this morning. When Tom asked the children what the shepherd did when he found the lamb, one of the little darlings said, "He killed it." Then Tom explained that the shepherd (Jesus) rejoiced that the lamb was found and turned the children's eyes to one of the stained glass windows showing Jesus holding a lamb in his arms. Then the child said, "So then they could eat it." Poor Tom. He recovered as best he could and finally was able to end the children's sermon on a positive note. I guess Tom forgot this was Palestine, Texas, where real men are always on the lookout for meat to eat. Tom would have loved to have brought a fierce lion or bear into the story to take the little boy's mind off food. Love, Mom